"Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark" to swing into the Foxwoods (?) Theater... for real this time

It's official (again)! Almost a year after it was supposed to open on Broadway, the Julie Taymor directed monstrosity, Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark will make its debut at the recently renamed Foxwoods Theater on December 21, 2010 (I wonder if the fact that the theater was recently renamed means that they've found someone to foot the enormous bill this show is bound to create). To be honest, Michelle and I have been meaning to write about Spider-man ever since we started this blog. In fact, on our list of blog ideas, we actually had, and I quote, "the disaster that is Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark."

For those of you who don't know or who have been kept in the dark (see what I did there?), this show has a somewhat long but definitely sordid history, at least by our standards. When we first heard of this show, it was in passing, as in "oh, Bono is writing songs for a musical?!" At first we were all "say what now?" and immediately googled to find out the story. As it turned out, it was a musical being directed by Julie Taymor, and it was about Spider-man. Then we were all "is this in any way related to Kiss of the Spider Woman?" but it soon became abundantly clear that this was a musical about a comic book superhero, and we were confused. After all, this was supposedly a musical about a comic book superhero who swings around on webs that shoot out from his hands and gets into lots of fights with evil villains, often culminating with lots of explosions and blood and death. So, you know, typical Broadway fare... not. Our quest for enlightenment and understanding led us to discover that Ms. Taymor actually wanted to renovate the then-named Hilton Theater so that Spider-man could, in fact, web his way around the theater. At that point Michelle and I decided that while the idea sounded totally whack and typical of Julie Taymor, we would keep tabs on it.

Then came the rumors of financial trouble, of inexperienced producers misappropriating funds, of Julie Taymor wanting truly outrageous and ridiculously expensive props and set pieces, of bankruptcy looming in the show's near future. Still, development continued. Some dude named Reeve Carney was cast as Peter Parker. Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming signed on to play Mary-Jane Watson and the Green Goblin, respectively. Bono and The Edge were supposedly churning out new songs like the Duggars pop out kids, even though not many people had actually heard any of the music or knew much about the status of the production. It was apparent, however, that the show would not be ready to begin its first preview, much less open in February of 2010, as it was originally supposed to. And so it happened that opening night came and went without the show actually being performed, even though tickets had been sold. The status of the show was up in the air: Was it happening? Was the cast even rehearsing? And maybe even more importantly, what was the show even about?

It was truly a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. It also became an unintentional source of humor for us theater geeks. The show spawned a truly hilarious Broadwayworld.com discussion thread about understudies for the janitor and other construction crews. It also resulted in this, which upon viewing, made Michelle and I laugh so hard we cried:

Basically, this show was a hot damn mess. Months went by without the show opening, and yet the poster remained up in Shubert Alley (which, incidentally, caused Michelle and I to snicker every time we walked past it and say things like "Oh my gosh, can we go see if the understudy for the janitor is on today?"). Spider-man became the punchline of many of our jokes. Then it was revealed that Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming had both been let out of their contracts and had left the show. I began to wonder if this show was ever even going to see the lights of Broadway. After all, so much money had been poured into it that ticket prices were sure to be astronomical just to break even and be able to pay weekly operating costs. It was bound to be flop, if it ever even opened. Honestly, it really just seemed like a lost cause, one of those shows that never were and that, years from now, I would look back on and chuckle at what a disaster the whole thing it had become.

But now... the tides seemed to have changed. Patrick Page has been tapped to take over for the Green Goblin, and one of Michelle and my favorite young performers, Jennifer Damiano (!) has been cast to play Mary-Jane Watson. (Honestly, we're tempted to see the show just to see her, but only if they have a decent rush and/or lotto policy. We're poor college kids here, people). Full casting was recently announced, and the show began rehearsals August 16. Things are definitely looking up, it would appear.

Who knows, maybe the show that almost became one of the biggest snafus in Broadway history will rise from the ashes and become a hit. My bet, however, is that the show will struggle. Ticket prices, from what I have seen, are indeed steep, with premium seats selling for over $130. That's not to say that people won't pay to see the show, merely that the show may have trouble making the money it needs to stay open if people cannot afford or do not wish to pay such hefty ticket prices. While I would be happy if the show were to succeed (mostly, I'll admit, because I want Ms. Damiano to be successful in whatever she does), the odds already seem so stacked against it. It would take a, shall we say "superhuman" effort for the show to succeed, and I'm just not sure if that's feasible at this point.

Still, stranger things have happened on Broadway. Only time will tell if Spider-man will be able to overcome its tumultuous history and have a successful run on the Great White Way. In the interim, I just hope it continues to keep me entertained.

Another summer season come and gone.

A few posts back, I wrote a little bit about my experiences this summer interning for Pittsburgh CLO, one of the country's leading non-profit theaters. Since then, the past two months have flown by, and this past weekend, PCLO's 64th Summer Season came to a close. It's difficult to put into words how much I've learned, how little I've slept, and how much I've enjoyed every second of my internship-from tallying thousands of show surveys, to going out for brunch with a former boyband star, to watching audience members read my articles in their programs.

I've also had the opportunity to watch the performances of the incredibly talented people who came through the doors of the Benedum this summer. The extremely quick rehearsal-room-to-stage transition period creates a fascinating environment in which an actor must develop their portrayal of a character at a rapid pace. Since I just HAPPENED to be at the theater so much anyways (do I need a better excuse?), I managed to catch each of the six summer shows multiple times, and was able to witness the progression of the actors over the week or two that each show ran. In true PCLO fashion, each show had an extremely solid cast. I am truly in awe of each and every performer I watched this summer, and it's hard for me to believe that I won't be reading about each of them on the front page of BroadwayWorld in the near future. That being said, there were countless individual or duo performances that brought down the house every night.

So, without further ado...*drumroll*...I present my Top 10 List of Performers at PCLO This Summer, in no particular order:

1. Madeleine Doherty as Hold-Me Touch-Me in The Producers
Ms. Doherty reprised her role from the original Broadway cast of The Producers, but her performance was anything but stale. Really, any of the characters she played throughout the season popped right off the stage with the wacky mannerisms she embodied them with (see, Gym Teacher in Hairspray, Gretchen in The Student Prince). Look for her in the upcoming first national tour of 9 to 5!

2. Chad Johnson as Prince Karl Franz and Jacquelynne Fontaine as Kathie in The Student Prince
Okay, okay...I'm totally cheating by listing two actors together. Oops. Before rehearsals began for The Student Prince, I wasn't sure what to expect acting-wise from two star opera singers, but Mr. Johnson and Ms. Fontaine brought youthful innocence and refreshing honesty to their characters, and blew me away with their talent. And their voices...let's just say that I have finally begun to appreciate opera and how it is sung.

3. Ma-Anne Dionisio as Kim in Miss Saigon
Ms. Dionisio has literally grown up playing the role of Kim, and the maturity she now lends to her character made for an inspiring performance. She is also capable of conveying such a range of emotions with her voice, which aids in creating a strong female character.

4. Malcolm Gets as Lt. Frank Cioffi in Curtains
Mr. Gets is a true stage actor, with charisma that shot to the very last row of the Benedum's balcony. The style of his voice reminded me a lot of David Hyde Pierce, who won a Tony Award for the same role in 2007. His work in "A Tough Act to Follow" made the number one of my favorite scenes of the whole summer.

5. Michael Kadin Craig as Link Larkin and Katrina Rose Dideriksen as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray
(Cheating again...sorry!) Ms. Dideriksen brought such a spunkiness to Tracy, and sang the hell out of the score (no wonder she works with Joe Iconis!), especially "I Can Hear The Bells," "Welcome to the 60s" and "Without Love." Mr. Kadin Craig's Link was more toned down than past portrayals of the role, but it totally worked. His acting during the scene when he tells Tracy why he can't join the protest against Negro Day was PERFECT; it's immediately evident that he's not the kid who's popular because he's a stuck-up, football-playing stud, but because he's the hardest-working, focused-on-the-future kid who is also nice as can be to everyone.

6. John Walton West as Carmen Ghia in The Producers
Comedic brilliance. Mr. West's tall, lanky stature, combined with fluid, flamboyant movement across the stage, was perfection as Roger DeBris's assistant. He also nailed the delivery of his ridiculous lines and the interactions he created with other cast members onstage.

7. Jim J. Bullock as Wilbur Turnblad and Paul Vogt as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray
There's no point in apologizing any further-many, and arguably most, performances wouldn't be what they are without another actor or two thrown into the mix! Mr. Vogt and Mr. Bullock completely won the audience over on opening night with their antics during "You're Timeless to Me." Mr. Vogt's inclination for improv and Mr. Bullock's goofiness and honesty really brought Hairspray to life.

8. Kevin Gray as The Engineer in Miss Saigon
Mr. Gray is also a true stage actor, and although I've only seen him in one role, I thought he was wonderful as a character actor, in the best sense of the term. As the Engineer, his hidden allegiance to Uncle Sam, and greed, is so typical of the American way, but endearing at the same time - because he created a character that we as audience members could relate to.

9. Tim Hartman as Herr Lutz and Patrick Richwood as Hubert in The Student Prince
I couldn't have imagined a better comedic pair than Mr. Hartman and Mr. Richwood. With Mr. Hartman's imposing physical presence and Mr. Richwood's lack of height (hey, being short isn't such a bad thing!), they are perfect physical foils. Both men seem to be natural stage actors who project their dialogue and mannerisms to the back of the house, and the transfer of dominance throughout the show from Mr. Hartman's character to Mr. Richwood's was hysterical to watch.

10. Jim Stanek as Leo Bloom and John Treacy Egan as Max Bialystock in The Producers
Again...the perfect pair. (Way to go, CLO casting team!) I can only describe Mr. Egan's performance as dominating, in a good way - during "Betrayed," all I could think was, "How is he doing that?!" seeing that the solo number is quite an expenditure of energy. Mr. Stanek truly embodied Leo Bloom, and part of his charm lay in the fact that his story as a hometown boy who made it to Broadway nearly paralleled that of his character. And despite the hilarity of both performances, the pair managed to create a space for "Til Him" to be completely genuine and honest at the end of a laugh-out-loud extravaganza.

Honorable Mentions: Joseph Serafini as Oliver in Oliver! (reference his performance of "Where is Love" - what a bright future Mr. Serafini has!), Stuart Marland as Christopher Belling in Curtains (when it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing a certain character, you know the actor is doing something right!), and Rob Sutton as Aaron Fox in Curtains (what a stunning delivery of "I Miss The Music").

And that's a wrap! A cookie for you if you read the entire post...and since most of you are not from the Pittsburgh area, two cookies for you if you read the entire thing without having seen any CLO shows.

Pittsburgh is truly lucky to have access to world-class performers right in its backyard. Thanks to EVERYONE involved for a wonderful summer, CLO!