Paul Bogaev: A Superhero for SPIDER-MAN
If ever there was a tangled web of a Broadway production, it would be Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Just three months ago, the show seemed like it was on the brink of failure. Cast members were plagued with accidents, major stars pulled out because the show was delayed for a year, critics panned the book and music, and the producers publicly ousted Julie Taymor, the show's director and visionary.
It was doubtful that this troubled musical - the most expensive ever in Broadway history - would make it out of previews to see the light of opening night.
Yet next week, on Tuesday, June 14, the curtain is scheduled to "rise above" on Spider-Man, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a hard-working creative team that includes Paul Bogaev of Weston.Since the team took the helm and reworked the show, it is getting standing ovations in previews and glowing word-of-mouth buzz. There is a real possibility that the once-doomed show could scale the walls and become a runaway hit.
Mr. Bogaev, who people backstage refer to as "the doctor," became the musical producer of Spider-Man in March. "My job is to oversee all aspects of the music," Mr. Bogaev said at the Foxwoods Theater on Broadway during an interview at a recent preview.
Problems with the production became painfully apparent when previews began on Nov. 28, 2010. Critics, who usually wait until a show opens to review it, broke with tradition to express their displeasure.
"This show is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway, but it may also rank among the worst," said Ben Brantley of The New York Times.
Though the sets and special effects were deemed "visually stunning," the plot was considered muddled and incoherent, and musical numbers disjointed. Critics didn't like that the show revolved more around the character of Arachne, a villainess in the show, rather than Spider-Man, the hero.
With a price tag of $65 million at the time (now estimated at $75 million), the show cost more than any other Broadway musical to produce, and its future was hanging by a spidery thread.
In February, Mr. Bogaev, a Grammy and Emmy award-winning musical arranger and composer, was asked by Spider-Man's producers to help with the show's sound quality and vocal and orchestral arrangements.
Mr. Bogaev had previously worked on Broadway on numerous shows, including Aida with Elton John, and Tarzan with Phil Collins. He had also worked with director Julie Taymor on the film Across the Universe, and had deep respect for her. "Julie is a brilliant artist and visionary," Mr. Bogaev said.
But in this production, Ms. Taymor's artistry was criticized as excessive. Things soured further when several cast members were injured, including stunt aerialist Christopher Tierney, who suffered serious injuries after he fell from a ledge during a performance. The show's accidents and mishaps became the fodder of jokes on late night TV.
"The negative publicity brought people to the previews and ticket sales skyrocketed, but they were coming for the wrong reasons," Mr. Bogaev said.
In March, the producers decided to make some big changes, and with Ms. Taymor out, a new creative team was put in place, including director Philip William McKinley, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, sound designer Peter Hylenski, and choreographer Chase Brock.
Mr. Bogaev was asked to stay onboard and was elevated to music producer. "I was the only person who wasn't entirely part of the original team or entirely part of the new team, I was somewhere in between," Mr. Bogaev said.
The producers shut down previews from April 19 to May 11, to let the team revise the script and music. Skeptics thought the show couldn't be saved.
Patrick Page, who plays The Green Goblin, gets help removing his makeup after the show from assistants Tiffany Hicks and Angela Johnson. -Patricia Gay photo, all rights reserved
"I have to give credit to the main producer, Michael Cohl. He wouldn't quit. He wanted to do the show right. Philip William McKinley brought the company together. Very few directors have skills in all areas, but he is a great collaborator," Mr. Bogaev said.
A number of changes were made to the show, including the transformation of the villain Arachne into a guiding spirit for Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. In the process, two of Arachne's songs were cut.
The plot of the show was also revamped, and is now focused on the love story between Peter Parker and his girlfriend Mary Jane. Spider-Man's conflict with his arch-nemesis The Green Goblin was also expanded.
Patrick Page, who previously appeared as The Grinch on Broadway, plays The Green Goblin - a kind-hearted scientist turned evil when a mutation experiment goes awry. Mr. Page infuses the character with such depth and humor that he has instantly become a fan favorite, and is getting early buzz for a Tony award consideration.
While the book of the show was substantially re-written, much of Ms. Taymor's visual work has been kept intact, including a jaw-dropping opening number that features women swinging from the ceiling to the floor while weaving silken threads; dazzling urban sets that pop up from the stage; and stunning aerial and acrobatic feats performed by six different aerialists. Ms. Taymor is listed in the show's playbill as co-book writer, director and mask designer.
"What remains now is Julie's visual genius," Mr. Bogaev said.
Bono and The Edge
The music and lyrics in Spider-Man were written by Bono and The Edge - members of the band U2 - and many of the songs have a hard rock beat.
"It's been a very positive creative musical experience. I've worked mostly with Edge, and he is so fair about suggestions and now understands how in theater, the music must be integrated with the story," Mr. Bogaev said.
Each songwriter works differently, Mr. Bogaev added, noting that Phil Collins was present all the time at Tarzan, while Sir Elton was more hands-off during Aida. "Elton said ‘I'll give you the songs, you make it into a show'," Mr. Bogaev said.
Mr. Bogaev doesn't take anyone for granted in this production, from script girls to lighting directors. He considers everyone an important part of the same team.
"It is truly a joint effort. The best theater is a collaboration where everyone is on the same page," he said.
The Foxwoods Theater is ready for the much anticipated premiere of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark. -Patricia Gay photo, all rights reserved
Mr. Bogaev enjoys musical collaboration in his personal life as well. He frequently works with his wife, Barbara Schottenfeld, a critically acclaimed writer, composer, and lyricist, whose works have been performed around the world.
The couple lives on Katydid Lane with their sons, Daniel, 14, and twins Thomas and Michael, 11. The boys are also musical and play piano and other instruments.
Mr. Bogaev has a background in music from the Juilliard school, and was also a professional actor in his early 20s. He studied acting and script interpretation with Stella Adler, which he said gives him a greater understanding about how all the elements of a musical need to work together.
Keith Batten, the associate director of Spider-Man, also worked with Mr. Bogaev on Aida. "Paul is one of the greatest musical people in the business. He knows musical theater. He is brilliant and has a great sense of humor," Mr. Batten said.
Mr. Bogaev commended Mr. Batten and the entire team for their hard work on the show. "What we had was a rock and roll circus, but it has been transformed into a Broadway musical," he said.
At intermission, a woman in the audience who was sitting by herself, leaned over and said, "I think this show is phenomenal! My husband wouldn't come because he heard bad things about it. It's his loss," she said.
Mr. Bogaev disappeared briefly at intermission to discuss the tempo of the songs with the crew and make adjustments. "The pacing needs to be fixed," he noted during one number.
Mr. Bogaev is constantly tweaking the show. "The orchestra was too loud at times, we're going to fix that. We're also going to add one more new song, and we're going to enhance the final showdown between Spider-Man and The Green Goblin," he said.
In a television interview a few weeks ago, Bono said the show was "80% there." Last week, Mr. Bogaev said the show was now 90% there.
"By opening night the show will be 100% there. Nothing is dire as it is, but why settle for a B+?" he said.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is playing in previews at the Foxwoods Theater on Broadway, and is scheduled to open on June 14. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com.
The musical number, "I Just Can't Walk Away," from Spider-Man, will be performed at the 65th Annual Tony Awards, which will air on CBS Sunday, June 12.
Photos: (#1) Paul Bogaev by Bryan Haeffele; (#2) Jacob Cohl photo copyright; (#3) Patrick Page, who plays The Green Goblin, gets help removing his makeup after the show from assistants Tiffany Hicks and Angela Johnson. -Patricia Gay photo, all rights reserved, courtesy of Patrick Page; (#4) The Foxwoods Theater is ready for the much anticipated premiere of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark. -Patricia Gay photo, all rights reserved