99 and Under the Radar: Three Spidey Shows...Turn ON the Dark
Welome back to to 99 AND UNDER THE RADAR: A LOOK AT INDIE THEATER'S MOVERS AND SHAKERS, BroadwayWorld's new weekly series that showcases standout productions and production companies from the independent theater scene in New York City. Each week, independent producer Michael Roderick will be discussing the latest goings on in the theatrical wings, highlighting those with potentially bright futures.
This Week's Topic: "Three Spider shows and a company that encourages us to to turn ON the Dark"
In the wake of the 65 million dollar Spiderman's 3rd posting of "sorry not ready yet", three artists from completely different parts of the business decided that with great material comes great responsibility and decided to take a crack at telling the story Broadway has been stumbling over the past few months. The results were fantastic.
First out of the gate was John Osebold's "Spidermann" which played three performances at the experimental incubator on 45th st known as The Tank. The show proved to be the only version that chose to almost completely rewrite the classic story and create something with an associative structure that brought the house down. This is no doubt due to Osebold's excellent understanding of the Indie music scene and an uncanny ability to known when silence can cause the most laughter. The premise of this five cast member tale was that Peter Parkre meets up with radioactive Steve Winwood who causes him to split into the other characters of Spidermann and Spidermensch and then watch projections of spider nature videos throughout the course of the evening. In lesser hands, this tale could have been a disaster, but the dynamic cast is so incredibly committed to the material, the piece finds a humor in all of its absurdity that is hard to categorize but undeniably hard to forget. The music is also very catchy and more than one member of the audience was found to be humming Osebold's tunes while on the way out of the theatre. The piece concluded with an interpretive dance to a U2 song that was reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live sketch that Martin Short did of synchronized swimmers. Over all, Osebold and his team, came, watched videos, and conquered.
Next up was the internet sensation The Spidey Project, which began with Justin Moran reaching out to the world via Facebook and Youtube to announce that he was going to write a Spiderman Musical and open it for two performances only using a budget of $0. The theater community rallied behind Moran as he got started creating the show and updated his loyal followers via Facebook. The culmination of this effort took place for two shows only at The People's Improv Theatre (The P.I.T.) Both shows were filled to the brim and with good reason. Moran's piece was a true homage to the hero that many comic book fans, including yours truly, have followed since they were in grade school. The show was obviously well researched and highlighted Gwen Stacy (played with wonderful comic panache by the talented Liz Bachman) who was Peter's first crush, and fan favorites J Jonah Jameson as well as appearances by a series of excellent super villains all played in one glorious love song/ fight sequence. This show tells the real story and does it with a comic genius that only an improv enthusiast like Moran could have pulled off. Travis Nilan makes an exceptional Peter Parker as well as Spiderman and Claire Neumann's portrayal of the desperate Betty Brant provided some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Moran and his team made the decision to only do two of these performances, but after this show, it wouldn't be surprising to see Moran and his creative partner Jon Roufael churning out the next Urinetown.
The third in the series is the true definition of parody. Randy Blair, Timothy Michael Drucker, and Matt Roi Berger's Spidermusical is an intricate satire of not only, the comic book world of everyone's favorite web slinger, but also musical theatre in general. Beginning with a nod to another popular musical about a winning lotto ticket, we are introduced to the cast as Peter Partker claims he has won the lottery and then after celebrating finds out he misread the numbers. The show soars from that point on making a fantastic mockery of the concept of special effects. The spider swinging sequences have the low budget punch of an episode of Robot chicken and the way someone gets run over by a subway train is another incredibly clever moment involving heelies. Alex Brightman is a winning Peter constantly vying for the affection of Mary Joan (Played with boundless energy by Sara Chase), and Randy Blair's villainous Dr. Cosbourne shows the true absurdity of genetic experiments gone awry. The show moves beautifully and has great pacing. The cast constantly change outfits and roles in what seems like seconds making one think that the cast is significantly larger than it is. One of the funniest tunes of the evening features Katie Thompson as Nana June lamenting the loss of her porcelain clowns and it's very easy to find oneself humming a tune or two about being in the dreaded "friend zone" on the way out the door. Overall, the team on Spidermusical are to be commended and it wouldn't be surprising to see this show rise again in a much bigger venue.
Last, there is another New Theatre Company on the scene that invites audiences to Turn On the Dark. Dark Luna Productions was founded by a group of MFA candidates from Rutgers University who first met to discuss an idea for a script and a few years later had a company. Now, this intrepid group is ready to show the NY Theatre community what they have been cooking up for the past two years. Many of the company members have a Meisner background and the focus of the work is to be truthful and honest with the work while promoting changes in the audience's perception. The company's first two productions "Us vs. Them" and "Pas-sage" seek to do just that. Dark Luna focuses on plays that encourage audiences to have discussions about the work long after having left the theatre. The group itself is incredibly diverse incorporating technicians and designers as company members who have an equal voice in forming the script which makes for a truly collaborative process leading to a true ensemble. When asked to describe the work being done and what they would like audiences to take away from it, they replied, "The work is an edgy, provocative, dark but often funny look at family and loved ones and the disfunction that occurs in those relationships. We'd love to share that with the NY community." To see the latest offering from Dark Luna, grab tickets here.
The Indie scene continues to produce some of the most innovative work out there. One has to wonder what might happen if 65 million were invested in this community rather than one show. Whether it's creating comedy or creating conversation, the independent artists here are well worth investing in.