Lately part of me has wanted to give the Spider-Man producers a hand. They knew they needed help and they sought it, which is more than one can say for many Broadway producers. And Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was an inspired choice. But I cannot applaud the selection of Philip William McKinley. It leaves me baffled.
A major problem with Spider-Man is that the scenes are not punctuated correctly. This is a problem with much of Taymor's work, even, to some extent, the critically lauded Lion King. She always creates visually stunning pictures, but often character development seems like an afterthought. In Spider-Man there are a lot of cool things going on--there are moments that are extremely inventive and clever. Yet she doesn't seem to know that, when Peter Parker is required to don his Spider-Man suit once again, he needs to have a moment of reflection. The action needs to stop before the lights dim. Indeed, Spider-Man would benefit greatly from some of the circus-like elements--especially in the video-laden Act II--being pared down. So, of course, the producers have selected as the show's new director a man known for directing circuses.
The release announcing McKinley's addition to the creative team says, "McKinley has vast experience directing technically complex productions on Broadway and beyond." In fact he has only directed one Broadway show, The Boy from Oz, a critically-derided musical that was not very technically complex at all. Regardless, even if he is a technical master--and I am sure his Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses might well be genius--he is not known in theater circles as a man who can stage a scene brilliantly. And that is what Spider-Man needs.
This is not to say that I think replacing Taymor was a bad idea. Any pair of fresh eyes is better than none. There needs to be someone at the Foxwoods who thinks twice about a number in which female spiders wear bright colored high heels in order to descend to Earth from the astral plane. (McKinley, please here my prayer.) I just feel there were better choices, even discounting those directors who would have laughed at the mere suggestion. The decision to use McKinley solely is simply perplexing. I understand the need to have someone on hand who knows how to deal with the technical aspects, but then there also needs to be a real character-focused director. Do they think this is solely an amusement park attraction? Couldn't they have hired McKinley and someone else?
Perhaps McKinley will surprise me. I hope so. I appreciate that the producers are trying to improve the show and I feel Spider-Man can be saved. (This is different from when Maurice Hines continued working on the Earth, Wind & Fire musical Hot Feet after its opening.) I don't expect it to be the best show ever by summer, but I believe there is entertainment potential there. While the songs are not great, they are also not horrible. Aguirre-Sacasa can greatly improve the book fairly quickly. Actually, when I went to see Spider-Man a couple of months ago, I created a list of all the things that could be done to improve the show in under six weeks, and there were many. Now the (new) team has months. Hopefully the remaining members of the original team--Bono and The Edge--will do their part by at least writing better openings and closings for both acts. (I say that they are the only remaining members of the original team because everyone seems to have simply forgotten the existence of co-librettist Glen Berger.)
I retain the right to post in the future about how this is all really a consumer bilking scam. For now, I will send my thoughts up to the astral plane. Rise above, new team. Rise above.