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The show that redefines “Break a leg,” Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been very publicly beset by injuries, weird buzz, daunting delays, and an unattractive marquee for some time now. To make sure it has eight legs to stand on, the mega-musical’s opening was recently pushed to March 15—and this time, they mean it.
But Spidey’s biggest enemy might not be itself—or the Green Goblin—it’s the New York Post‘s theater reporter Michael Riedel (the co-host of TV’s Theater Talk with Susan Haskins), who has long sprayed a big can of journalistic Raid at director/co–book writer Julie Taymor‘s seemingly untrounceable confidence. Riedel took time from his deep-dish duties to talk arachnophobia issues with me:
Me: Hi, Michael. Do you want this show to succeed?
Riedel: Not particularly. I saw it, and I think it sucks.
Me: But it was in previews!
Riedel: Nothing can save this show. I don’t care if you bring Rodgers & Hammerstein and Joseph Stein back from the dead. And Alan Jay Lerner, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin, too.
Me: That good, huh? How about if you bring back Neil Simon?
Riedel: I’ll leave that joke to you.
Me: What do you feel is fundamentally wrong with this thing? (In previews, that is.)
Riedel: It’s ineptly written on every level. Julie Taymor has proven to us that she’s not a writer. This is where her megalo-mania has taken over.
Me: So her healthy ego puts her in a constant state of “hakuna matada”?
Riedel: She may have written The Tempest!
Me: Judging from those reviews, maybe she shouldn’t take credit for that, either.
Riedel: She’s got this little guy called Glen Berger. He looks like one of her hand puppets. That’s her little writing sidekick. They’re not bringing in a book writer or doing much work on the creative side of the show, but concentrating on the ending they don’t have. She feels what they have is pretty good!
Me: So they’re not seeking help?
Riedel: Some agents had floated a few names—”My client might be able to help the show”—but the show declined. I don’t think it’s good for the industry to have a bad show. It’s good to have exciting shows in all the right ways—economically and artistically.
Me: You’ve said that Mexican money is behind Spider-Man. You weren’t hinting at drug cartels, were you?
Riedel: No. There’s money from all over the world.
Me: Do you feel the show was doomed—according to you—from conception? Superhero musicals rarely seem to fly, as it were.
Riedel: I don’t think any show is doomed based on its concept. I never think the problem is the source material, but the execution. Julie was allowed to run wild with finances, the safety issues, the special effects, and her imagination. I’m all for artists being able to roam, but, practically speaking, you have to have someone to take care of things. If you look at most successful shows, behind them is a very strong producer.
Me: Bring David Merrick back from the dead! How is your approach to this show different from that of another writer, Patrick Healy, who seems almost as obsessed with it?
Riedel: Patrick is with The New York Times, where they have to plod along the fair and balanced path. I make no secret of my adversarial relationship with the show, and I’m having a jolly old time. I am a columnist, he’s an old-fashioned news reporter. I pick battles. I pick winners and losers, and I never look back. I never doubt my position. If this show is still running five years from now, I’ll have no memory of this interview! [Laughs.]
Me: Will you get comps despite all you’ve written?
Riedel: If they give me comps, all bets are off. They’ll have a hold on me. They can wrap me up in wires and slam me into a wall. I’ll pay. I’m just going to materialize and not tell them I’m coming.
Me: Well, it’s probably worth the money. Hasn’t fulminating against this show raised your profile?
Riedel: I got a fair amount of media attention and I didn’t have to break any bones to do so. [Injured actor] Christopher Tierney had to break three bones to get on the Today Show. I just broke the show.
Me: Well, I’m glad it’s helping some-body’s career!
Your Past Is Showing
Terrified that the current theater season is falling from a giant platform onto your head and killing you (though you were already halfway deceased from boredom)? Well, digging into the theatrical past proved a little revivifying this week. At Alice Tully Hall, there was a Collegiate Chorale concert version of 1938’s Knickerbocker Holiday, with Kelli O’Hara showing off her beautiful pipes and Victor Garber scoring on an autumnal “September Song.” The show happens to start with Washington Irving giving up gossip writing because “a man can’t go forever manufacturing fiddle-faddle for the transient amusement of the witless.” Please! Works for me!
Downtown, The New York Idea is a David Auburn reworking of a 1906 marital romp that, like one character says of another, is a decent dose of sherbet before the next course. And the next course turned out to be—yes—Spider-Man when someone who’d seen it gave me a ring on the ding, ready to spill. “Tell me something positive to counter all the other stuff,” I pleaded. “The stunts are amazing,” she complied. “You really can’t believe your eyes.” And what about that big shoe-shopping number that’s already legendary? “It comes out of nowhere and it’s completely silly!” she said. It is? That sounds right up my Tin Pan Alley!