Exclusive: BroadwayWorld Reviews THE SPIDEY PROJECT!
While BroadwayWorld follows a policy of not reviewing productions before they have officially opened, after careful consideration both this reporter and the editor-in-chief concluded that an exception must be made for The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
This decision was not made lightly. When playwright Justin Moran first announced, via a February 11th YouTube video, that he intended to write and rehearse a fully-realized Spider-Man musical which would be performed on March 14th, the day before the currently-scheduled opening of Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, and do it with a budget of $0, this website was willing to wait until that time before passing critical judgment.
However, on Friday morning at 12:01am, tickets for the free 8pm performance, to be held at The People's Improv Theater (a/k/a The PIT) were made available through the internet. In less than a minute, the entire house was booked with reservations, leading to the scheduling of an additional free performance on the 14th at 10pm, which will be available for reservations at noon on March 7th. This is all very well and good except for the fact that the cast has already been rehearsing the show for almost a week. Wondering what might necessitate such an extended rehearsal period, we at BroadwayWorld sensed a pattern of continually rehearsing the show while announcing additional free performances which would fill up with reservations based on word-of-mouth, having theatre-goers make advance commitments of their time to the production without any objective critical evaluation from New York's reviewing press. This would set a precedence that we feel not only does a disservice to the public, but gyps theatre critics out of the last threads of power we've been so desperately clinging to.
So with a well-placed bribe to an insider at The PIT (my extra press comp for The Book of Mormon) I was able to hide under the theatre's seating risers and observe Friday evening's run-through rehearsal of the show.
It didn't take long for me to concluded why so much preparation would be required (this was their sixth rehearsal) for this production. With a budget that is a full 65 million dollars less than the now-previewing Turn Off The Dark, Moran and his collaborators seem to be experimenting with a groundbreaking technique previously unheard of in Spider-Man-based musicals. They intend to emphasize clear, intelligent story-telling with songs that help define the characters and advance the plot.
"You can do quality writing on Broadway with no spectacle and have a very successful show," Moran, who directs and is co-authoring the book and lyrics, was heard commenting to his co-bookwriter/lyricist, Jon Roufaeal, as the two of them, along with co-composers Doug Katsaros and Adam Podd (both of whom also contribute additional lyrics), discussed the intriguing idea of using the rehearsal period to find weak spots in the script and rewriting them; even the possibility of replacing one perfectly good song with another that might express a character's motivations more fully.
Indeed, it appears there are instances of high-altitude web-swinging written into the plot, but from Moran's instructions to Travis Nilan, who plays Spider-Man, it seems these instances will not involve flying on wires, but instead will be executed through an avant garde technique based on the concepts of "safety" and the audience's willingness to "suspend disbelief."
As the show opens, the eight-member cast, playing high school students, sing, "Oh God, the midterms start tomorrow," to a catchy Broadway-rock melody. Other musical styles in the score include salsa, big band and one particular number I can only describe as cartoonish heavy metal.
The plot, cleverly told, involves awkward Peter's unrequited love for classmate Gwen (Liz Bachman, who sings with a lovely soprano), the events that lead to his becoming Spider-Man and a bit of Cold War espionage.
Nilan plays the teen hero with a raw, angsty edge, particularly effective in his indie rock solo, "Great Responsibility." However, there was an exceedingly uncomfortable moment when the actor halted the run for what must have been a full five seconds to ask the stage manager to remind him of a line. I can only imagine the circus-like atmosphere that might ensue if Nilan fails to memorize that line within the next ten days, forcing an audience to sit through a five-second delay as he is prompted.
While it's doubtful that The Spidey Project will attract many patrons from the non-English-speaking tourist demographic that Broadway musicals thrive on, I can see it appealing to patrons who are willing to invest an attention span in the words and music. It remains to be seen how many free performances can be supported by such audiences, but as Moran emphasized to his company while giving notes, "It's not just a musical. It's a statement."
For BWW's Photo Coverage of THE SPIDEY PROJECT in Rehearsal, Click Here!