As one whose childhood was brightened by what seemed the great original American art form, my heart lifted by the brilliant lyrics of Frank Loesser, Yip Harburg and Cole Porter, my soul tintinnabulated by a sense of personal destiny because I had the same birthday as Irving Berlin, I have watched and listened with great dismay to the devolution of the musical comedy. When Lincoln Center had its brilliant revival of South Pacific, I wept all through the overture: hearing real songs, feeling true sentiments, not just squishy things, but a modicum of wit that made you smile, and occasioned bursts of true joy. So it was with some alarm that I experienced Phantom, and the mawkish music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and grieved for what was doubtless going to be downhill from Lerner & Loewe.
But I had NO idea. Only as a vague sense of terror descended on me with the mounting cost of musicals, and the success of mirthless unfrolics like Spring Awakening, as my ears strained for real music, did I begin to feel what I loved was lost forever. So when the announcements started coming about Spiderman- Turn Off the Dark, that a theater was to be renovated to make room for the aerial acrobatic, and a show was to cost $65 million i threw in my spiritual musical towel.
Having lived many years in Hollywood, the capital of Schaadenfreude, where one is mostly sustained by the failure of others, it is with a heart full of song that I read today Ben Brantley's wittily negatived and admittedly early (although in terms of original scheduling, late) review of Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark. Any bad advance feelings I had towards the show had been exacerbated by the positive enthusiasm lately exhibited by the hysteric Glenn Beck, who endorsed it as if it were the musicalized philosophy of Sarah Palin. So to have a genuine theater critic from The New York Times see it at last, and express his tasteful disdain gave a lilt to the day. The Gershwins hummed in my ears. Jerome Kern flooded my veins. I think the song he played was "Look for the Silver Lining."
Is it possible in this horribly confusing world where daily the values we once clung to are swept away, that virtue can still triumph? That Good -- that is to say not the comic book victory of masked hero over masked villain, but something of actual value, like a melody you can actually hum and words you can understand -- can prevail? Oh, God, I hope so. Are You there? Are You watching this? Or are you just trying to get out of the way before some more scenery falls?