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The Broadway musical Spider-Man Turn off The Dark isn’t as bad as it was made out to be, but that’s
only because the producers fired the show’s original Director and book writer,
Julie Taymor. Taymor was once
famous for adapting Disney’s The Lion King into a hit Broadway musical, but now she’s only famous for helming one
of the worst disasters in Broadway history, Spider-Man Turn Off The
The story of Taymor’s work on Spidey is lampooned in a musical comedy
that is currently running in the New York City Fringe Festival, The
Legend of Julie Taymor or The Musical That Killed Everybody.
Every year the Fringe festival produces about two hundred
shows in a two-week span, so producers scramble to come up with the most
readily-marketed subjects, and outrageous titles, in order to stand out from
the hundreds of other shows. Often
this leads to disposable social satires about pop culture, but it also means
that devoted theater artists can quickly put together timely topical shows in a
matter of months. The Legend of
Julie Taymor is the latter, and is one of
the better productions that I’ve seen in the Fringe.
It begins with the number “Broadway’s Burning” which laments
the increasing number of adaptations appearing on Broadway, and contains
references to “Terminator: The Musical”
and “Jaws: The Musical”, leading
up to the announcement that the popular comic book “Spider-Dude” is about to be
adapted into a musical. The show
then runs with this angry premise; Broadway producers will back any piece of
garbage if it looks profitable, and arrogant artists think they can make great
art out of even the worst ideas.
It helps if you’ve actually seen the Broadway production of Spider-Man
Turn Off The Dark. The Fringe show spoofs some of the
lousier ideas from Taymor’s show, including the “Geek Chorus”, and her
relentless use of Greek mythology.
Still, you can enjoy this show even if all you know about Turn
Off The Dark is what you gleaned from the
daily news reports about the troubled production.
The Legend of Julie Taymor follows the production from the beginning and focuses on the events
leading up to opening night. It
isn’t a Spider-Man parody, but
rather chronicles the years of backstage troubles, and pre-production
disasters. It mostly sticks to
established facts, and is a case of truth being stranger than fiction (The
original producer of Spider-Man actually suffered a fatal stroke when the
creative team was signing their contracts). It eventually deviates from the true-life story for comic effect, depicting Taymor as seducing a theater owner, and deliberately
arranging “Accidents” for performers who get in her way.
The music by Dave Ogrin parodies the “Dark” tone of the
Broadway show in many parts, but also strikes out on its own with rock music
and has several memorable songs like “I’m the Only True Artist” and “Broadway’s
Burning”, which is all the more impressive considering that Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, doesn’t have any memorable tunes at all.
The cast does a great job with the material, of course
Jennifer Barnhart is delightful as the villainous Taymor, and Christopher Davis
Carlisle is yet more villainous as her catty theater “Columnist” nemesis based
on Michael Reidel.
Joe Barros’ Direction makes an excellent use of the limited
resources allotted to Fringe Festival productions. The set is composed of just six blocks, painted with a
different image on each side, and these are turned/ stacked to form different
pieces of furniture in the various scenes. The choreography makes the most of the small
off-off-Broadway stage, even when spoofing the flashy stuntwork used in the
Broadway show. I
particularly enjoyed the choreography used when Taymor manipulates one of her
performers like a puppet – Strings and all.
The show has one more performanc as of this writing, and
is likely to sell out early. I do
suspect that it will be brought back for a longer run in the near future, so if
you miss this Fringe production, do keep an eye out in the months ahead for
another run. You can find out more
about this musical at its website, and you can buy tickets on the Fringe
Festival’s website. If you haven’t
done so already, check out our review of the Broadway production of Spider-Man:
Turn Off The Dark.