Word From the Webs
Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, director-writer-designer Julie Taymor's $65 million musical extravaganza now at Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre, is one of the most talked about theatrical experiences in the history of American theatre. And it hasn't even opened yet. (As of this writing, a March 15 opening night is scheduled.) Naturally, we wanted to talk to the show's respective hero and villain, Reeve Carney and Patrick Page, for their inside takes on the show inspired by the Marvel Comics icon.
Reeve Carney: Spidey Speaks
If you think you've been waiting a long time for opening night, Reeve Carney has been involved with this production since 2008. Director Julie Taymor saw his band, Carney, playing a gig and later cast him as Prince Ferdinand in the film of "The Tempest." For Spider-Man, she upped the ante and cast him and the band, which features his brother Zane on guitar. Zane and Carney bassist Aiden Moore actually appear onstage throughout Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark (drummer Jon Epcar plays in the pit).
Carney, who grew up in the West Village and Flatiron neighborhoods of Manhattan, relocated to L.A. as a teen and studied performing arts while the music of the Beatles, Queen and Edgar Winter opened his eyes to rocking out. Starring on Broadway with band-mates and family close at hand, singing the music of Bono and the Edge — these things are not lost on the newcomer who says, "I'm very fortunate because some people don't even get what they dream for. I've gotten more than I've dreamed for." Okay, Spidey, how is it going?
Good! It's going well. It's nice to be approaching our opening. I'm looking forward to that because it means no more rehearsals.
I know there are various other guys in Spider-Man suits throughout the show, but I was surprised how much physical work you have to do.
It's definitely exciting to me because if I ever do any other film work or whatever, I'm kind of getting stuntman training in this show. Maybe I'll be an action star.
In those moments when it is you soaring above the crowd, what is it like to be looking down on the people below? Or are you strictly concentrating on controlling your flight?
I'm definitely trying to look at people, but it's a little hard actually seeing their faces with the lights in my face. I'm just trying to let them share in the joy of the experience of flying because it's really fun.
You are a rock 'n' roller in a comic-book show about a bookworm who becomes a superhero. Is it fair to say you have a little inner geek about you, or are you more like a good-looking guy that they've "nerded up" as Peter Parker?
I appreciate you saying I'm good looking [laughs]. I would say that I'm a geek about certain things; not so much science, but you get me talking about the curvature of the neck on my guitar or different things that are technically related to my instrument — or amplifiers or pedals — and I get very geeky when it comes to that sort of thing.
You worked earlier with Julie Taymor on "The Tempest." Were you amazed at some of her visual creations for Spider-Man?
Yeah, one of the most exciting visual moments in the show for me, which I think is such a groundbreaking image, is the Chrysler building set. The first time I saw the building — they way they are portraying it in the show — that was pretty wild. I'd never seen anything like that before. That, in particular, was something that I never could have imagined. I don't know how they imagined it; it's crazy.
And what is she like in terms of how she works with you as an actor?
She's great. She knows when to give you very detailed advice and also knows when to speak more in broad strokes. It's different because I was so new [to acting] when I did "The Tempest," and now I have more experience. I'm still pretty green with this whole thing, but I have more experience after doing it night after night on Broadway. She and I communicate very well together. I guess we just have the common denominator of being artists who want to push things to exciting extremes. I feel that way when I'm making music with my band, and she feels that way with anything that she does.
At what point in the creation of Spider-Man did you realize it was going to get a lot of attention for things beyond the show itself?
I knew that this show was big news before I signed on to do it, but it seemed to have this snowball effect. In terms of media attention, it's generally a positive thing. Having awareness [about the show] at all ends up helping in some ways. Our friend Chris Tierney, who was injured [in a fall] in December, he's going to be back in the show in about two weeks. I'm so happy about that. He's been doing really, really well. It's great that the unfortunate circumstances seem to have a light at the end of the tunnel.
|photo by Jacob Cohl|
Do you think the shows trials bonded people in the cast and crew?
Definitely. I think those moments end up testing you, especially as a community and as a unit. Thankfully it didn't break us; it just made us stronger. That's one thing with Chris Tierney's personality. That's what he wanted for us even when he was in his hospital bed. He has a great, positive spirit, so that helped us all move forward.
Did you ever give in to anger about it — at people who were not on the inside of the show, but offered opinions anyway?
No, I don't think I ever got too angry about that. But it is funny…one of the most frequently asked questions I have from people who find out that I'm in the Spider-Man musical, playing Spider-Man, [is] "Oh, are you the guy that fell or are you the understudy?" I'm like, "Uh, neither?" It's so funny, but there are definitely some misconceptions out there, that's for sure.
You grew up in New York and have parents who were artistic — and musicians. Were they your biggest artistic influences?
Oh yeah, my dad was an English literature major at Yale. He graduated from Yale and then he went into music, and my mom has, crazily enough, trained in vocal performance and music theatre for the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. They are both trained in different ways. My mom is a very trained musician. She met my dad when they were songwriters in the '70s, and then my dad became a jingle writer and my mom shifted her focus more to jewelry design, which is what she does now. I guess I do come from a family of artists. In the '70s, my mom was asked by Bob Dylan to be a backup singer on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, but she ended up not doing that because she just met my dad. But if she had, I might have been Jakob Dylan! [Laughs.]
To have your band in the show with you, that's got to be a comfort.
It's so great. I'm very thankful for everyone in the production for being open-minded and actually hiring my band. Even to consider it was very kind of [the producers]. It's great because it's actually kept our band together, which allows us to do what we did at the Bowery Ballroom recently. Thanks to the publicity that we're getting from this show, we sold out the gig. We opened for someone else there about eight months ago. To have our own sold-out, headlining show there was just very exciting. I'm looking forward to more of it.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Patrick Page: The Goblin Gabs
It isn't easy being green. When we last talked to Patrick Page, he was playing The Grinch and successfully fighting to keep that show open in the midst of the labor strike of 2007. Now he's wreaking havoc as Spidey's nemesis, the Green Goblin, and according to Reeve Carney, Page has been instrumental in turning off the dark behind the scenes, keeping everyone in a positive space despite the maelstrom surrounding the show. "He's a true gentleman," Carney says. "I've learned a lot from him just watching the way he handles the stress."
Talking to Page, you wouldn't know there was any stress at all. It's clear he's having a ball onstage as the Goblin/Norman Osborn, enjoying some musical numbers he calls "wild and hallucinatory" — and more human moments like a gentle waltz with his stage wife in the first act. Offstage, he and real-life wife Paige Davis will be celebrating their 10th anniversary in October.
Is it a mad and crazy time for you right now?
No, it's good!
When you were the Grinch, we talked about how long it took for you to be made up and how you kept your skin cool in that costume all show long. In this, you actually have to do quick-changes into the Goblin character.
That makes it easier on me and harder on the makeup people. It's six people doing a quick-change on me in about three minutes. I feel like one of those racecar drivers in a pit stop. It's a lot of fun. The first time we did the quick-change, it took about three-and-a-half hours, so we got it down to three-and-a-half minutes. I'm curious about such a visual show. When you're reading the script for the first time, and you develop a mental picture of what it might look like, is there anyway to guess how Julie's vision of it will come out?
No, not for something this visual. It's like reading a screenplay for something like "Inception." You don't know exactly what it's going to be. That was one of the thrilling things about the first day of rehearsal for all of us, seeing it laid out in storyboards and drawings and film presentations of what it is we had signed up to do.
You're a consummate actor, performing Shakespeare and teaching craft, as well. Did you worry about finding the humanity in your character in a show that's so technical and visual?
Well, you know that's my part of the equation, so I didn't worry about finding it, but I did go about finding it. I find that in a musical, you're very frequently asked to fill in large parts of what isn't there on the page. In other words, when I was doing The Lion King, for example, for Scar, there's obviously some sort of long back-story or relationship that he has with his brother and with his father, but you don't know what it is. You really have to create it, whereas if you're doing a play, a lot of that back-story might be in the script itself. In a musical, you're more likely to have just a line or two in order to lay something in.
I enjoy the moments of humanity that you bring to Norman, like when you're doing a little waltz with Laura Beth Wells. You both seem kind of lost in each other. If there's any moment that we can look back at and feel the pain that Norman later feels, that's it.
Oh, absolutely. That's a real key moment. That's a moment that's gone through all kinds of evolutions as we've done the show that we've really wanted to hold onto. In a way, what I was talking about with a musical, you've got very little time to communicate an enormous amount. So, having them there together looking into each other's eyes hopefully tells the audience a lot about what they mean to each other. That's exactly the kind of thing that I love doing. I love working with Laura Beth. It's so funny, she's been in the business for a long time, and she's this extraordinary actress and singer. This is her first Broadway show. When she first came to the city, she was ushering in The Lion King at the New Amsterdam Theatre. She's really come all that way, and I love being with someone who not only is so gifted and so giving on stage, but who really understands how blessed we are to be doing this for a living.
|photo by Jacob Cohl|
What can you say about Reeve Carney, your nemesis in the show?
Well, the very first thing I appreciated about Reeve, before I knew anything about his talent, was who he is as a human being. He's just this very special, giving, kind person. And anybody who meets him is first struck by that. Humble, loving, generous… But then, you see him work, and he's just amazing… he just sort of has it. Whatever "it" is, Reeve Carney has "it." He's a star. I've seen it when I've been able to stand aside and watch in this show, but also I've seen it with his band, Carney. It's an overwhelming experience.
He mentioned you as someone who has been a great presence during the tough times that this show has had. Have you tried to be that kind of person for the cast?
Yeah, I'm so grateful to be able to get up in the morning and come and do something that I love to do. The fact that we have jobs, we get to stand in front of audiences and then we come out of the stage door, and [the fans] tell us how wonderful we were and they had a great night. It's a remarkable privilege. I guess I've been doing it long enough that I am able to have some kind of context and know that this is a really incredible experience we're having. It's not a hard thing to be having a good time. I'm sometimes a little taken aback when I see somebody and they say, "Oh you must be having such a difficult time," and I think, well, not really. I play for a living. I pretend to be other people and I put on marvelous costumes and I stand in the light. It's not a chore. Of course we did have hard times, for example, when Chris was hurt. That was a horrible, horrible night and a terrifying 24 hours. But the wonderful thing is that Chris did recover, Chris is doing very well. So we're all really grateful.
Was it ever a bit annoying, the extreme focus on the troubles of the show?
You know, I'm an actor, so I'm interested in human behavior. I'm interested in why people do things. So from that aspect, I wouldn't say annoying, but I'd say fascinating. I'm fascinated to be in something that causes people who aren't in it to have very, very strong opinions about things they don't necessarily know the details of. I've learned a lot from that, actually. Now when I see something on television, and somebody says this or that happened. I really think twice and I wonder if it did happen that way or what the circumstances were. Because I know, having been in the building, and then seeing a news report the next day, I think, "well that's really not how it happened." I think I look at things a little differently now than I did before.
We now know Spidey's origin, and the Green Goblin's. What is your origin as an actor?
When I was a kid, some of my first memories are of my dad on stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I remember, even though I was two, three, four years old, the feeling of pointing to the stage and saying I want to be up there. It looked like that's where the fun was happening. I knew from the time I could walk that I wanted to be an actor. And that's what I did.
Do you have a lot of folks from the Pacific Northwest coming out to see you in this?
I hope so, yeah. My parents are going to come out after we open and after it warms up a little bit. My dad is 86, so I want the weather to get a little bit warmer. My brother is going to be coming out. I have friends coming to the opening. It's so thrilling to be part of something that everybody's talking about. I went to dinner the other day with another actor who is doing another show, and she kept saying, "Only one more question about Spider-Man. Only one more question about Spider-Man." Everybody wants to ask questions. That's great. You don't get that too often in your life.
The Beatles never played live at a time when sound design was anything approaching what we have today, so it is definite fun to go to Rain, the Beatles tribute at the Brooks Atkinson, and let yourself imagine that you are seeing the real Fab Four performing many songs they never played outside the studio, all with crystalline sound. These guys are that good. Each Rain man — all born in the USA, by the way — tackled a question for us…
Lennon-esque Steve Landes
For those who haven't seen Rain, could you explain the transformation that we (and you) experience in the show?
Oh yes. The Beatles changed and grew, just as the Sixties changed, and got more complicated, often tumultuous. Through the multi-media in our show, you see some of that; the Vietnam War, protests, riots, assassinations, etc. I think that's a big part of the Beatles' story, how they affected the times, and vice versa. And I think the moral of the story is that no matter what, through all of those tough times, the thing that always wins out in the end — what truly matters — is positivity, beauty, love, happiness. That's the theme that runs though every era of the Beatles' career, in one form or another. I think it's why their music is just as relevant today as ever, and I think it's why we Beatles fans have taken them so much to heart.
Perfect Paul: Joey Curatolo
Your joy seems so apparent onstage. How much is you "as" Paul, and how much is you?
I try to keep as close to character as possible within the two-hour show, but I would be lying if I didn't admit at some points my inner excitement comes through.
George-like Joe Bithorn
Was it a challenge to simulate the guitar style of George Harrison?
Yes, his phrasing and sense of melody were quite informed as he obviously was listening not only to Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry but also to Chet Atkins. I remember figuring out the volume-swell parts of the song "I Need You" towards the end, and what complex chords he was using. One of them is actually an inversion used commonly by the band Steely Dan!
Ralph "Ringo" Castelli
How would you compare this show to Beatlemania, which was also a big break for you guys? Beatlemania was a wonderful show at that time. I'm very thankful for that opportunity to meet and play with the rest of my band-mates. The big differences are the performers: Joey, Joe and Steve. At any time throughout the night we have the flexibility to add any song. When the four of us are onstage together there's a magic that we create from being together so long, and the audiences feel it.
(The Leading Men columnist Tom Nondorf can be reached at email@example.com.)