Our recent trips to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Chicago included a lot of indelible theatergoing moments—and it’s impossible to pick just one favorite from among the 26 shows we viewed during our 24-day cultural adventure in the United States.
In “Orphans,” Ben Foster only had a couple of weeks to prepare for the difficult role vacated by Shia LaBeouf, who quit the production after a difficult rehearsal process—and it didn’t help that he wasn’t seeing eye to eye with costar Alec Baldwin.
We were on tenterhooks as we waited for the curtains to rise for “Here Lies Love,” David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s ingeniously staged disco-themed musical, which chronicles the “meteoric rise and fall into infamy” of former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos (portrayed by the refreshing Ruthie Ann Miles), as well as the Iron Butterfly’s eventful romances with Ferdinand Marcos (Jose Llana) and, hold your breath, Ninoy Aquino (Conrad Ricamora)—allegedly Imelda’s first love!
Iconic pop divas
Iconic pop divas, Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand, loom large but don’t get much love on Broadway’s most talked-about productions, the rousing box-office smash, “Motown, The Musical,” and the one-woman play, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” which marks Bette Midler’s return to Broadway—after 40 years!
We were heartbroken, though, when we learned that the musical revival of “It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman”—last staged on Broadway by director Harold Prince in 1966, about the Man of Steel’s (Edward Watts) life-or-death duel with a vengeful, 10-time Nobel Prize-losing scientist—would wrap up its limited run the day after we arrived in New York (March 24), when we were already scheduled to view Scarlett Johansson’s polarizing portrayal as Maggie the Cat in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and the 1940s Hollywood crime caper, “The Big Knife,” starring Bobby Cannavale.
To make up for our “loss,” we caught the splashy stage turn of the comic-book world’s other high-flying—or, more appropriately, web-slinging—superhero when we made a beeline for “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark,” the controversial but hugely successful pop-rock musical about our friendly neighborhood web-spinner (Reeve Carney)…and he didn’t disappoint!
To say that the musical, with a tuneful score by U2’s Bono and The Edge, is as dazzling as it is groundbreaking wouldn’t be an exaggeration: Like a fanboy, we were grinning from ear to ear as Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) bounced off walls and literally flew from the stage to different areas in the orchestra and balcony, which he capped off with his thrilling aerial combat against Norman Osborn aka The Green Goblin (Robert Cuccioli)—as Mary Jane Watson (Rebecca Faulkenberry) dangled from the 1,046-foot Chrysler Building!
Bono and The Edge deliver hip and edgy tunes that will have the Merry Villagers heading for the hills—from the anthemic “Rise Above” and the radio-friendly romantic duet, “Picture This,” to the peppy “Bouncing Off The Walls” and the revelatory “No More,” in which Peter and Mary Jane agonize over school bullies and abusive parents, respectively. In “Turn Off The Dark,” Spidey comes to the realization that being a hero is his inescapable destiny!
With 27 dangerous but seamlessly staged fight-and-flight sequences and constantly moving set pieces, the show manages to put its enchanted, swooning audience in the middle of its high-flying action scenes!
However, given the participation of Dr. Osborn’s villainous Sinister Six, made up of Carnage, Swarm, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Swiss Miss and The Lizard, it’s hard to do away with kitsch altogether—a minor quibble.
Unlike the lavishly designed but ultimately disappointing “The Lord of the Rings” musical, which we saw in London in 2007, “Spider-Man’s” lengthy gestation period (it had 182 preview performances, the most in Broadway history) has allowed the production to find a middle ground between its crowd-pleasing, campy excesses and its more serious content!