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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 Dark. 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.