Monday, November 29, 2010

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark isn't the worst thing Marvel has put on stage in New York

In January 2011, the most expensive show ever to play on Broadway will open. It's based on the comic book Spider-Man.

Apparently, its recent preview show revealed some glitches.
Last night's opening pre view of Broadway's most expensive production ever, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," was an epic flop as the $65 million show's high-tech gadgetry went completely awry amid a dull score and baffling script, theatergoers griped.

Stunned audience members were left scratching their heads over the confusing plot -- when they weren't ducking for cover from falling equipment and dangling actors at the Foxwoods Theatre on West 42nd Street, some said.

At various points, overhead stage wires dropped on the audience, scenery appeared on stage missing pieces -- and the show's star was even left swaying helplessly over them midair during what was supposed to be the climatic end to the first act.
That is just a taste of a review of the show that appeared in the New York Post. You're encouraged to click over and read the review. It's funny, and probably a lot more entertaining than the show itself.

The New York Times was a bit more subdued.
All $65 million of the new Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” took flight on Sunday night at its first preview performance, but not without bumps. The show stopped five times, mostly to fix technical problems, and Act I ended prematurely, with Spider-Man stuck dangling 10 feet above audience members, while Act II was marred by a nasty catcall during one of the midperformance pauses.
Ah, yes. It "took flight." With some "bumps." As for the "nasty catcall":
Act II began shortly after 9 p.m. and unfolded fairly smoothly until about 50 minutes later, when [stage manager] Mr. [C. Randal] White called for a pause. After a few minutes, as some audience members were stretching, a woman in the audience suddenly shouted, “I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I feel like a guinea pig today — I feel like it’s a dress rehearsal.” She was met with a chorus of boos. The performance resumed a moment later; the show ended at 10:09 p.m.
If that's what passes for a "nasty catcall" in New York, those people are a lot less tough than their reputation.

Anyway, the show was directed by Julie Taymor, who directed Titus, which I thought was an entertaining film, and The Lion King stage show, which I managed to resist, although there was a period of about two years when everywhere you looked the Los Angeles scenery was afflicted with its promotional material.

The songs were composed by Bono and The Edge of U2. I was under the impression that those two were involved in charity work or international debt disputes, or something. But, apparently, they write songs, too.
The musical has attracted outsized public and media attention by Broadway standards, in large part because of the money and talent involved: U2’s Bono and the Edge signed on to create the show nine years ago, and have written a full-length score, their first for Broadway, and helped recruit as the director Julie Taymor, a Tony Award winner for one of the last musical spectaculars to open on Broadway, “The Lion King.”

As poorly as the "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" preview might have gone, it's got a way to go before achieving the infamy of the January 1972 Carnegie Hall performance, "A Marvel-ous Evening with Stan Lee." Mr. Lee is, along with the great Steve Ditko, one of the creators of Spider-Man, among other classic Marvel Comics characters.

He is also a bit of a character, himself. He is one for the self-promotion. Reality tv fans might recognize him as the host of the show "Who Wants to be a Superhero?"

But back to 1972. Comics were going through one of those cyclical periods in which they're considered "hip," as publications like Rolling Stone and the Village Voice were writing serious articles about them. Writers like Ken Kesey, filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Frederico Fellini were praising them in interviews. Musicians like Donovan and Country Joe & the Fish were writing songs referencing them. And Stan Lee was going around the country, giving lectures and making personal appearances.

So, given that comics were so hip, and Stan Lee was the face of Marvel, the hippest company, it made sense to have him appear at Carnegie Hall and do -- well, uh, nobody really knew what he was going to do. And nothing was really planned. A bunch of famous and semi-famous people were set to appear with Mr. Lee, along with some Marvel artists and writers and, well, apparently they all expected some kind of magic to happen, and everyone who'd bought a ticket wouldn't feel like they'd been cheated.

According to the book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, the evening did not go well.
Stan Lee's night at Carnegie Hall brought with it none of the cultural legitimacy [promoter Steve] Lemberg or Lee had hoped for -- in fact, the event was covered by very few media outlets, and almost nothing written about it at the time or since has been favorable.
That's from page 134 of the book. You're encouraged to at least check out the book from your local library and read the depiction of the event in its entirety. It is excruciating.

But instead of lingering on that description, let's instead get a look at how Marvel's own editorial department described the event in one of their "Bullpen Bulletins" published in Marvel's June 1972 issues. As you read this, think about whether or not you yourself would wish you'd been there:
"ITEM: January 5, 1972! Mark that date in your memory-book, faithful one - 'cause that's the night the batty Bullpen got it all together at Carnegie Hall, in the hectic heart of New york City!

As we told you last month, the whole magilla was called 'A MARVEL-OUS EVENING WITH STAN LEE' - and it was a way-out compendium of music, magic, and madcap Marvel mayhem! Smilin' Stan himself was Master of Ceremonies - presiding over the frantic goings-on while images of mighty Marvel superheroes flitted across a giant movie screen. A trio of our titanic artists got into the act, too, as Jazzy Johnny Romita, Happy Herb Trimpe, and Big John Buscema did sensational sketches of Captain America, ol' Greenskin, and Thor - which in turn were projected onto that selfsame screen. (There was a passel of our cavortin' characters in actual attendance, too, including Spidey, Daredevil, Doc Doom, and even J. Jonah Jameson himself!)

The standing-room-only crowd exploded with applause, also, at the roster of famous names who had gathered to pay homage to the madness that is Marvel: World-famous film director Alain Resnais translated a few of the Silver Surfer's soliloquies into his native French; and there were also a few pungent paragraphs about our heroes which were intoned by radio personalities Alec Bennett and Earl Doud, by actors Rene Aberjonois and Chuck McCann (you've seen the latter a zillion times as the 'Hi Guy' neighbor on the other side of the medicine cabinet in those Right Guard commercials), and neo-journalist Tom Wolfe, resplendent in red, white, and ble as he read about - you guessed it - Captain America.

As for the music mentioned about, most of it was provided by the far-famed Chico Hamilton Players - but some more Marvel Madmen got into the act, too, as Hectic Herbie and Bashful Barry Smith plunked a couple of wild electric guitars while Rascally Roy Thomas belted out a rousin' rocker or two! Then, for the grand finale, just about everybody in the blamed Bullpen crowded onto stage to sing the Merry Marvel Marching Society theme-song - while, not to be outdone, dozens of cheering fans rushed onstage as well, and the show closed amid a revel of handshaking and autograph signing all 'round. And that was that!All in all, it was a wildly successful evening - and not necessarily the last of its kind, either! And, if there were a few bleary eyes and sore throats among the Bullpenners come the morning of the 6th - well, that's show biz, people!"
I copied and pasted the entire thing because this was the Marvel editorial department putting a positive spin on the show.  A French film director read Silver Surfer soliloquies -- in French! Tom Wolfe talked about Captain America! Artists stood on stage and drew pictures! Artists and editors played guitars and sang! Actors read some paragraphs!

That is a truly damning review, far more damning than the Post's review of "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark." Would you rather have seen that, or some actor get stuck on a wire, suspended above the audience, for ten minutes?

Evening with Stan Lee at Carnegie Hall by Atomic Kommie
Evening with Stan Lee at Carnegie Hall by Atomic Kommie


Iced Borscht said...

Stan Lee is a freak. I had to unsubscribe to his Twitter feed because every tweet was along the lines of "Hey, true believers! What's for lunch? A BLT! Exceslsior!"

With Stan, like Dale Carnegie and Ray Kroc before him, it's hard to tell where genius stops and huckster begins.

I wonder what would've happened had a darker, weirder creator ushered in the grand age of super-hero comics...maybe Spider-Man and the X-Men aren't as great as we'd like to think? Maybe some schlub with ideas crazier and more outre than Stan was toiling away in obscurity while Stan, the ultimate pitch-man, was building his empire with his goofy sales shtick.

We'll never know...

Iced Borscht said...

The other weird thing is the timing of Stan's success. Nowadays, if Stan pitched a story idea to a publisher, he would sound hopelessly hokey, obviously. But I bet that when he first started selling his wares that cigar-chomping, fast-talking publishing magnates at the time would've thought his whole shtick was fantastic, e.g.

"Kid, I don't know what in Sam Hill you're talking about with this 'Mr. Spider' funny business, but I like your sis-boom-ba -- your chutzpah! You can really gild the lily, Four Eyes. Let's make a deal."

Ricky Sprague said...

Stan "The Man" Lee was also blessed to have some of the greatest, most creative collaborators to ever work in comics -- Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. Based on some of the things that those two wrote after working with him, Stan's contributions were often nothing more than a one or two sentence synopsis, from which they would have to create 22 pages of content, to which Stan would add dialogue.

Stan was and is a creative, talented guy. But you're right; we can't tell just how much of that creativity was outside of marketing (and by the way -- marketing is important!).