The tale of the ongoing catastrophe of the mega-musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark keeps getting deeper and richer. The good news is that the Spider-acrobat whose rig broke loose and dropped him into the orchestra pit is
. The bad news is that that is what passes for good news. Surely the New York Post has already laid out the TURN OFF THE LIGHTS front-page wood (subhead: $65 MILLION SPIDER-FLOP SHUTS DOWN).
Today, the New York Times reports that one of the show’s
is quitting, a story that nicely evokes the many ways in which the Marvel Comics / Julie Taymor / Bono and the Edge production has been sprayed by a radioactive skunk. The actress, Natalie Mendoza, is one of the casualties of the show’s hazardous equipment; she
sustained [a] concussion during the show on Nov. 28 when she was struck in the head by a rope holding a piece of equipment while standing offstage.
This was not the same accident as the December 20 accident that sent the Spider-Man performer to Bellevue with
a hairline fracture in his skull, a broken scapula, a broken bone close to his elbow, four broken ribs, a bruised lung and three fractured vertebrae.
Beyond the mounting body count—two other performers were injured in rehearsals—there’s a revealing bit about Mendoza’s role in the show:
Ms. Mendoza played Arachne, a spider villainess who has a major role in Peter Parker’s becoming Spider-Man and who becomes obsessed with the super-hero. Arachne is a signature creation of the show’s director, Julie Taymor, who said in an interview last month that she conceived of the character several years ago after having a dream about the transformation of a normal teenage boy into a powerful super-human. Much of the Act II story revolves around Arachne, and Ms. Taymor had collaborated closely with Ms. Mendoza on developing a distinctive look and manner for the character. Arachne delivers the musical’s title number and sings on five other songs, including an Act I turning point, “Rise Above,” and the finale, “Love Me or Kill Me.”
Who what? They’re spending $65 million to stage Julie Taymor’s dream journal? It’s a comic book, lady. Peter Parker had a lab accident. When they get around to putting on The Incredible Hulk, is Bruce Banner going to be seduced by some magical lady named Gamma Rae, who does all the singing?
So here is the musical staggering through previews, halting performances for
or to call in the
. Two weeks ago, the Times reported that the January opening was being
, so the show could keep hiding from critics during frantic rewrites:
Reflecting the view of some audience members who have criticized the show on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, Ms. Taymor and the producers have concluded that Act II has storytelling problems that need to be fixed. While Act I is a familiar rendition of Peter Parker turning into Spider-Man, Act II is largely the invention of Ms. Taymor and Bono, and includes some major reversals that can be hard to understand in the fast-moving show.
Act II is the act built around an unnecessary character—the character played by the actress who now just quit. The character that only existed because the big-shot director thought it was a good idea.
The Greeks had a word for that: hubris. And they made great drama out of it. That’s the fix. The newly promoted understudy shouldn’t be playing “Arachne” at all, see? She should be playing “Julie Taymor.”
There’s your compelling story. Will this show (that is, “this show”)
? Take the jumble of six supervillains and raise it to eight or 10. Project the Twitter commentary up as surtitles above the performers. Stop vainly hoping the acrobats stay attached to their harnesses, and start teaching them to plunge on cue. It’ll be like The Producers or A Chorus Line—Broadway about Broadway. The worse it gets, the better it will be.