San Diego Union Tribune
December 31, 2010
Link to actual article
“Phantom” menace, “Spider” bites: Troubled shows face the music
Launching any major new musical is a high-wire act of financial risks, artistic compromises and, ultimately, brave wagers on ever-fickle audience tastes.
But as demonstrated so vividly in recent weeks by “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” — an actual high-wire act of a show — there’s now another element to contend with, too: The rise of musical-bashing as a kind of (blood) sport.
“Spider-Man,” the $65 million musical directed by Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”) and with a score by Bono and Edge of U2, has done plenty to earn the vitriol it’s receiving, especially online. Four actors now have been injured during rehearsals and performances — including the stomach-churning plunge on Dec. 20 by performer Christopher Tierney, an accident that landed him in the hospital, temporarily unable to walk.
Natalie Mendoza, who played the key character Arachne, suffered a concussion when a rope fell on her head backstage, and has now left the production, adding to the show’s woes (its official opening has been pushed back again to Feb. 7).
Dismay and even anger at those developments has exploded all over the Web.
“SPIDERMAN SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF ITSELF. THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE AND EMBARRASSING TO WORKING ACTORS EVERYWHERE,” the Tony-winning actress and ex-San Diegan Alice Ripley, who comes to town next month in the touring production of “Next to Normal,” wrote on Twitter. (In, yes, all-caps.)
“DOES SOMEONE HAVE TO DIE?” Ripley subsequently tweeted. “WHERE IS THE LINE FOR THE DECISION MAKERS, I AM CURIOUS.”
But while “Spider-Man,” the most-expensive musical in history, is also well on its way to becoming the most-derided musical in history, it’s not the only high-profile show to come under withering fire lately.
There’s an ongoing Web campaign that actively seeks to derail “Love Never Dies,” the “Phantom of the Opera” sequel that was scheduled to hit Broadway (originally under the direction of former Old Globe artistic chief Jack O’Brien), but has been beset with troubles during its London run.
The effort is led by LoveShouldDie.com, where you can buy T-shirts and sneakers bearing the site’s logo, and find roundups of the latest blistering reviews of the show.
As evidenced by the T-shirt slogan “Phantom Needs No Sequel” (the show also has been tagged with the snarky nickname “Paint Never Dries”), the site’s campaign is led by “Phantom” fans who believe “Love Never Dies” is beneath the original.
That sense of ownership in a cultural phenomenon is part of what seems to be driving the recent spate of show-bashing, particularly since so many musicals now are based on existing entertainment properties (from comic books to movies) that can have fervent built-in fan bases.
Another issue is alarm at the massive budgets of some musicals, and anger at their high ticket prices (as much as $280 for a pair to “Spider-Man”).
And then there’s the simple fact that fans and naysayers now have a profusion of outlets to express their opinions.
“I believe there has become a sport in handicapping all art,” says Stuart Oken, producer of “The Addams Family,” which suffered its own drubbing early on, but has survived to find success on Broadway. (The touring version comes to San Diego in 2012.)
“Now there’s a thousand critics for everything. You can’t get away from it. I think that’s made it more difficult. I don’t think it’s a good, healthy dialogue about the art. I think it’s about all the wrong things.”
Oken acknowledges that “‘Spider-Man’ has created a lot of its own issues, too,” with its high cost and continuing string of injuries. “A little $16 million musical (such as ‘The Addams Family’) now looks like nothing next to a $65 million musical with people ending up in the hospital. Now, we’re small potatoes.”
From a producer’s standpoint, Oken adds, the one thing to remember is that ultimately, “the audience gets to decide. You just have to have a thick skin to get through it.”
Or, in the case of the “Spider-Man” cast, strong bones and a sturdy constitution.