PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 16-22: Spider-Man to Fly Off Broadway and A Gentleman's Guide Opens

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22 Nov 2013

Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

It took three years, but those predictions that Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark detractors made that the ever-beleaguered musical would shutter at a great loss have finally come true.

The multimillion-dollar musical, the most expensive in Broadway history, and a news magnet such as the theatre hasn't seen in a generation, will close Jan. 4, 2014, producers announced. Though the show was a good seller for a period of time — despite the hurricane of adverse press (actors injuries, set malfunctions, law suits, tell-all books, etc.) that swirled around it — and has been seen by about two million people, tickets sales have been less robust in recent months.

The show was capitalized at $75 million. According to reports, it will have historic losses of up to $60 million when it closes. According to the New York Times, several investors said that they have not been paid back anything during the three-year run of Spider-Man and plan to write off their investments. The investors are placing blame on the show's costly upkeep — the production averages a weekly cost of more than $1 million — and the musical's lackluster score by Bono and the Edge.

Producer Michael Cohl, while accepting the reality of the show's fate on Broadway, was guardedly sanguine about the show's prospects in Las Vegas, where it will have a production, and overseas. "I expect them to see some money back," he said of investors in a New York Times article. "But it will be a long road and take a long time."

Spider-Man began previews Nov. 28, 2010, and, in a record delay between first preview and premiere, officially opened June 14, 2011. The musical features a book by Julie Taymor (who was famously fired from the production, and subsequently sued producers), Glen Berger (who just published a backstage memoir telling his side of the story) and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who was brought in to shore up the book), as well as music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge, who kept a wide berth between themselves and the musical during much of its run.

The production suffered numerous injuries during its preview period and following the opening, including cast members Christopher Tierney and, more recently, Daniel Curry. Amazingly, throughout all of the above tumult, some cast members stayed with the show through the entire run, including the seasoned pros Isabel Keating (as Aunt May), Ken Marks (as Uncle Ben) and Michael Mulheren (as J. Jonah Jameson). They surely now count as troupers' troupers.

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Opening on Broadway this week was A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, a new musical comedy whose primary calling card is Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays, who puts on a tour de force by inhabiting eight different members of the doomed D'Ysquith family, who are being systematically killed off by ladder-climbing heir Monty Navarro, played by Bryce Pinkham. The score is by the relative unknowns Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, and the production, directed by Darko Tresnjak, is presented with an English music hall aesthetic, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek theatricality.

Critics were bewitched by the show's mordant charm. "Despite the high body count," wrote the Times, "this delightful show will lift the hearts of all those who've been pining for what sometimes seems a lost art form: musicals that match streams of memorable melody with fizzily witty turns of phrase. Bloodlust hasn't sung so sweetly, or provided so much theatrical fun, since Sweeney Todd first wielded his razor with gusto many a long year ago."

Jefferson Mays
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Times wasn't the only paper with Sondheim on the brain. Wrote Variety: "How very daring — a witty musical about a serial killer that Stephen Sondheim didn't write… The English music hall format is the perfect performance style for this adorably wicked show." Bloomberg News declared, "A stylish music-hall mystery in which we know whodunit from beginning to end, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder has lively songs, a congenial villain and a physically and morally flexible mistress."

The few detractors tended to fault the score. "Problem No. 1 is Freedman and composer Steven Lutvak's score, a collection of innocuous music-hall pastiches," complained the New York Post. The Daily New agreed, saying "Finally, there's the score, and, alas, it's a bit of bore."

Nobody was bored by Mays, however, who, most agreed, topped his Tony-winning work in I Am My Own Wife. Wrote the Times, "Mr. Mays sings, dances, ice-skates, bicycles and generally romps through some eight roles — flipping among personas male, female and somewhere in between — at a pace that sets your head spinning... As each precise caricature of British snootiness or silliness comes bounding onto the stage, Mr. Mays seems to be challenging himself to elicit bigger laughs, and he almost always succeeds. All but one of his characters ends up six feet under by the time this daffy, inspired musical concludes, but his brilliant performance deserves to be immortalized in Broadway lore for some time to come."

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Also opening this week was another show about love and wholesale murder — in this case, a 400-year-old classic. Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff play the murderous marrieds in the Lincoln Center Theater Broadway revival of Macbeth, directed by Jack O'Brien.

The production was not well received, with critics pretty much laying it on the line, calling the production "botched," "dark and dismal" and "strangely conceived."

The best marks were given to English actress Duff, who is making her Broadway debut. AP said, "making a triumphant American debut, is an exquisite Lady Macbeth... Duff expresses a range of emotions. She's initially taut and steel-spined as Lady Macbeth hectors her malleable husband into murdering their king, then gamely tries to cover for her unstable spouse during a sumptuously staged banquet." (AP also liked Hawke.)

Ethan Hawke
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Some like the visual aspects of O'Brien's production — "bold visuals and eerie soundscapes, by turns cinematic and operatic," wrote The Hollywood Reporter — but most were perplexed, if intrigued, by the three gender-bending Witches, played by Byron Jennings, John Glover and Malcolm Gets and the reasons as to why they "play unusually central roles in the action," as Time Out New York put it.

A couple critics liked Hawke, but most faulted him for lacking power and charisma in his portrayal and for a vocal performance that was "occasionally mumbled or rushed." Or, as the Times put it, "he delivers Shakespeare's poetry like a moody, glue-sniffing teenager reciting Leonard Cohen lyrics to himself."

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Up in Toronto, Disney opened its Broadway-bound Aladdin at the Mirvish Theatre.

The Toronto Star thought the show's creators still had some work to do. While praising "Casey Nicholaw’s show-stopping staging of 'A Friend Like Me' and James Monroe Iglehart’s blessedly bravura performance as the Genie," the paper added that, "as it now stands, nothing before or after it in Aladdin lives up to those six sublime minutes. It’s not that the show is actually bad. The people involved with it are far too talented for that. But they have forgotten the one basic thing that made earlier Disney musicals a success: we cared about the fate of the leading characters."

The Globe and Mail were in agreement, praising Iglehart and designer Bob Crowley's flying carpet tricks, but complaining that the show otherwise lacked heart and magic. "Here is an action-adventure romance where the suspense and the soul has disappeared," said the review.

Aladdin's limited Toronto run goes through Jan. 5, 2014. Broadway previews will begin Feb. 26, 2014, at the New Amsterdam Theatre towards an official opening March 20, 2014.

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The Visit lives.

The Williamstown Theatre Festival will produce the never-say-die John Kander and Fred Ebb musical as part of its 60th anniversary season.

As she did in Chicago in 2001 and later at the Signature Theatre Company in Virginia, Chita Rivera will star as Claire Zachanassian, the revenge-minded millionairess in the musical adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's play.

Presented July 31-Aug. 17, 2014, the show will be staged by John Doyle.