The Transom went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last week; the long-gestating musical had undergone a break so that its direction and book could be re-envisioned without original director Julie Taymor. We sat next to a New York Times Arts editor planning a piece on “one of the characters”; he wouldn’t tell us which one.
Such has been the constant culture of secrecy regarding the show. Given the relentless media drubbing suffered by Ms. Taymor’s previous incarnation of the musical, we were a bit surprised at all the showbiz in-jokes, often deployed by the Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson (played by Michael Mulheren). Jameson tells his reporters that the Daily Bugle, like the embattled show in which it features, is “fighting the Internet. We’re fighting bloggers! We’re fighting Facebook!” The newspaper is a quality product, though, unlike “The Times, the Herald, or”—pregnant pause—“the POST!” The name of the tabloid, whose theater reporter Michael Riedel was a particularly vociferous Spider-Man critic in its last round of previews, was spat out.
Mr. Riedel, reached by phone on the day of the Tonys, took it in stride. “I made many, many jokes at Spider-Man’s expense so I think it’s only fair that they make a few at mine.” (A source close to Ms. Taymor’s production of Spider-Man confirms that the lines were added after she left the show.) The jokes, he says, are a welcome addition to a show that had been a bit of a dirge: “I think they’re trying to add something to it that it didn’t have before—which is humor.” But Mr. Riedel had a warning for the show’s creative team: “The danger of metajokes is that only insiders get them. It’s a very small group.”
Spider-Man’s backstage drama has become a thing of the past: with Ms. Taymor gone and months elapsed without an injury, the show has stayed out of the news. “The story’s kind of petered out,” said Mr. Riedel. “It’ll become a financial story. Are they willing to prop it up if it needs propping up—or will it be a hit?” Not to worry. The new Spider-Man writers were prepared for that journalistic angle as well. At one point, the villain, the Green Goblin, references the show’s astounding expense, referring to himself a “$65 million—no, $75 million!—circus freak.” At that, the Transom and the Timesman in the adjacent seat shared a chuckle.
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