Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Spidey Project: 1000 Times Better Than That *Other* Spidey Musical

This past weekend, The Spidey Project ended its six week run in Los Angeles. The show, which originally ran in New York around the same time Turn Off The Dark first delayed its opening, was extremely acclaimed at the time, so I was heartily surprised to hear that reviews were more mixed of this Theater Unleashed production. I decided to go see for myself and came to one conclusion: theater critics out here are snobs who don't know how to let go and enjoy. What other explanation could there be for not enjoying this piece of theater that I couldn't watch for a moment without a smile plastered across my face?

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

The evening began in a small lobby surrounded by things to look at, interact with and purchase - fan art on one wall, audience haikus on another, Spiderman wristbands (that read Great Power Great Responsibility, natch), glow in the dark spider rings, and an aces concession stand that not only had standard delicious snacks but had COFFEEMATE for FRESH COFFEE (seriously, wtf, yes, thank you) and an awesome red and blue colored cocktail called a Webslinger. I drank two. 

After the jump, on to the show! 

The story itself is a simple take on Spiderman's origin, but the solid script is filled with appropriate camp and unexpectedly smart humor. Although there was plenty of (non-literal) winking to the audience, I never found it grating, and actually found myself laughing out loud multiple times, especially whenever actress Lauren Turner said, well, anything. Her comedic skills shone most as Betty Brandt and she is someone to keep an eye on. Kyle Cooper also stood out as Flash, nailing the "you think I'm hot until you realize I'm an awful person but in a funny way" appeal necessary for the character and getting some of the biggest laughs of the show. Ben Atkinson as J Jonah Jameson was pitch perfect, at times looking hand drawn himself, the way he could control his facial movements, specifically his eyebrows. Justin Baker in a myriad of smaller roles makes the most and more of what he was given, especially as the big bad where he nails the art of the maniacal laugh. 

Ryan J Hill as Peter Parker  looked the role, almost a mix between Tobey Maguire and Reeve Carney, but with 85% more gangle, and made a point of emphasizing the nerdy side of Peter, which definitely worked, especially considering the material at hand. Krista Taylor as Gwen Stacy, brought an innocent charm to the role that kept me from being bothered by the fact that she doesn't look at all like Gwen Stacy. 

The songs were catchy and well sung, specifically by Darren T. Mangler as Uncle Ben, who struck me as the most professional sounding on stage. Unfortunately, there were some downsides to a musical in this space, as the band was loud and the actors without mics, so it was at times difficult to even tell how good of a singer someone was.

The space was large and comfortable for an intimate black box, and the hand drawn comic panels on the walls (drawn by Sebastian Kadlecik)  provided a good deal to admire before the show even began. This aesthetic continued throughout, not only with set pieces themselves rocking the hand drawn look, but with creative ways of incorporating elements of the comic medium into the production and doing a lot with the limited stage options available to them. A favorite bit of mine was when Spiderman first took to the sky to swing between buildings, cleverly demonstrated by cast members pushing building set pieces forwards and backwards as Spiderman swung his arms in tandem. And only about 60 bajillion dollars cheaper than the Julie Taymor way! There was also a TV set up that was used for comic-style transitions (i.e. Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet…) and is where web cam footage of News Anchor Kent Holbrook was actually shown as we watched it happen live simultaneously.

As I watched The Spidey Project, I kept thinking you know - if *this* were the Spiderman Broadway musical, or at least at 70 minutes, a jumping off point for the Spiderman Broadway musical, the Spiderman Broadway musical wouldn't suck. I've actually seen the atrocious Turn Off The Dark and this tiny production was 1000 times better, at a fourth of the cost to attend. While certain production aspects weren't perfect, they all seem silly complaints when I had such a good time and I look forward to what ever comes next for Theatre Unleashed

The Spidey Project, with book and lyrics by Justin Moran and Jon Roufaeal and music by Adam Podd and Doug Katsaros, was playing at Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. It closed a sold out run this past weekend.