Thursday, December 23, 2010

Schadenfreude? Maybe, Maybe Not - On Musical "Spider-man"

The most expensive musical on Broadway, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark has suffered much delays and cast injuries lately.  People shifted focus from its production cost of $65 million to the disaster surrounding the musical.

Schadenfreude?  Maybe.  Maybe Not.  

The musical's creators are nothing but ambitious in their attempt to stage living theatrical work standing up to comparison to 3-D movies.  At 3'58" of the interview video below, Julie Taymor (book and direction) talked about sets, actions, dance etc., but almost nothing about drama.  As for characterization, she mentioned in passing that there will be a love interest.  The creators talked about their technical accomplishments with greatest enthusiasm but touched upon character, drama and music only perfunctorily.  We learned the design of the costume, the pop-up set and flying spider-man over the head of the audience.  What about the music?  Except that there would be a rock band, we learned nothing.  This musical was constructed to shock and awe, rather than to touch and move the audience.

Productions of this scale not only siphon limited resources away from other worthy efforts, they also cultivate an audience who think anything short of an extravaganza might not be of any good.  Instead of concentration on dramatic truth, profundity of language, and beauty of music, they lead people into exterior glitter only.  Over the years, I have grown extremely weary of over-produced theatrical works.

Living theater has quite different characteristics and validity from those of motion pictures.  With the advance of filming techniques, it will be increasingly difficult and extremely foolish to compete with movies on their turf.  Instead, theater should focus on what they do best.  The effort of such spectacle has also taken a strong foothold in opera world.  The Metropolitan Opera's new Ring cycle, produced by Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil fame, was such a sad example.  Tons of money and time were devoted to make the stage as eye catching as possible while psychological discovery and characterization were almost completely neglected.  According to New York Post, "although critics of Met general manager Peter Gelb say costs for the four 'Ring' operas will top $40 million, Met representatives insist the tab will be about $17 million, only slightly above the $4 million per-production average."  The audience was again impressed but hardly moved.  A much more human scale production would have served the drama of gods (with faults mirroring our humanity) much better.

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