Monday, March 21, 2011

Spider-Man: Turn on the Academic Parallel

Today was the day but it actually started last August.  At that point in time, I purchased four tickets to Spider-Man so that my wife, my kids and I could attend. The tickets were full price and I was hoping this show would be a great family outing.  But this is a show we have all heard about almost non-stop.  There have been a number of accidents, equipment malfunctions, and delayed opening after delayed opening.  This is also a show that has cost to date $65 million, a huge investment which requires, according to the press reports, at least four years of sold out performances before the opening costs incurred are covered.  There have also been a number of critics who have provided reviews before opening night and it seems as if the majority of these preview /reviews have been far from positive.  The story line was criticized, the music was criticized, and even the staging has been questioned.

As the delays mounted together with less than stellar reviews, I became more and more ambivalent about going.  Why pay full Broadway prices for a production that was so wanting.  My ambivalence was heightened when it was reported that the show with the most previews up to this time was Nick and Nora which had 71 previews and only remained open for a week after opening night. I saw Nick and Nora at the very end of previews even though I expected that these tickets would be for well after opening night.  I am a long time fan of The Thin Man movies that this show was based on and for years the only dog I wanted was Asta.  The show was a huge disappointment.  I wasn’t surprised it closed almost immediately.

And so I entered the theater, as perhaps many others in the audience did, with ambivalence at best and perhaps even a feeling that an earlier closing could have saved me considerable money. And here is the bottom line—I loved the show.  I though the staging was brilliant as were the costumes and sets, the story especially in the first act was fun as well as engrossing, the music was fine (not necessarily memorable but it certainly was enjoyable and worked well with the story line), and the cast first rate.  I had thought that Julie Taymor’s work in Lion King was extraordinary.  I first saw it in 1998 and I have been back two more times.  I think her work here is even more extraordinary. And I have this very positive overall feeling even though, just as good has prevailed and the story was ending, there was a mechanical malfunction that left Spider-Man temporarily stuck in the air at the back of the theater.

Anyone reading this blog would be within their rights to say that I am not a professional theater critic and therefore really shouldn’t provide a review.  It is true that I am an economist and an educator and not a New York Times theater critic.  But I do have a considerable theater knowledge base.  If you look at the shows playing on Broadway now, I have seen or have tickets for 22 of the musicals presently playing.  That covers virtually all Broadway musicals.  And last year, I also attended almost every Broadway musical. And I have been doing this for many years.  I also take my kids to almost all the shows at the New Victory Theater and attend a number of off-Broadway and on-campus shows as well.  Theater is my relaxation.

The producers and directors of Spider-Man have indicated that given the complexity of the show, there were no available theaters out of town that would provide a more secluded venue for previews, and I agree with them completely.   The same requirements made it impossible for the show to start as an off- Broadway production that ultimately moves to Broadway and becomes a major success story.  In the Heights is a perfect example of such a show.  I loved it off -Broadway and felt that the Broadway touches made it even more effective.

At a faculty discussion earlier this week, the point was made that excellent writing and the works of our most memorable authors often required many drafts and many rewrites before the final product emerged.  And when we read the final product, we can rightfully base our judgment on that product.  We know that the effective teaching of good writing needs to be based on this evolutionary process. Some excellent writing requires more drafts, others require much less revision.  We should accord the same rights to Spider-Man.  This production is already excellent entertainment; it has the potential to even be much more.  Let the evolution continue.  It is certainly worth the wait.  And, PS, I can already recommend without hesitation that you see it.

1 comment:

  1. Finally, someone from the academic world with the nerve to say something nice about Spider-Man on Broadway. It may not be Les Miserables. It may not be West Side Story. But it is great entertainment. My family on I enjoyed every minute of it. I just hope the rewrites to satisfy the professional critics do not try to make it something it is not meant to be and ruin it for future audiences.