Los Angeles Theater Review: THE SPIDEY PROJECT: WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY (Studio/Stage in Los Angeles)

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by Tony Frankel on March 19, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

OH WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

While Theatre Unleashed’s cast and crew have a gloriously and unashamedly good time bringing The Spidey Project to the West Coast, it’s a shame that their source material isn’t the parody it promised to be in the press release. There are some very funny moments in this silly, harmlessly-entertaining one-hour musical, largely due to some goofy acting and David Chrzanowiski’s exuberant direction, but it neither parodies the over-bloated Broadway musical nor the Marvel Comics character. To quote writer Justin Moran, “It’s Peter Parker, in high school at Forest Hills when he gets bitten by the spider and all that good stuff.”

Moran, a New York improv actor whose only titled writing credit in his bio is a NYC Fringe entry, got a great idea one month before the infamously over-produced Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark was slated to open on Broadway. He would create a guerilla theatre project to write, rehearse, and perform a fully-realized musical based on the character Spider-Man in less than 30 days with a budget of $0 – making it the first Spider-Man musical to officially open in NYC. There were two performances of Spidey at the PIT (Peoples Improv Theatre). One attendee commented that the audience was full of 20- and 30-something fanboys and comedy nerds who snatched up all of the free tickets in less than a minute as soon as they become available online.

Moran told the NY Times that the goal wasn’t to “tear down director Julie Taymor or parody her production;” his objective was “to do what she should have done in the first place, and that’s just make a really good musical.” With book and lyrics by Moran and Jon Roufaeal and composers Adam Podd and Doug Katsaros (who wrote the well-known three-note jingle “By Mennon”), The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility is not a really good musical. It’s a fairly fun, occasionally entertaining, mindless, campy, Fringe Festival-like attempt that qualifies as a clever stunt rather than an innovative musical (the original can be viewed on YouTube). There are enough moments that transcend the inanity of the project, keeping the show from being a waste of time, but it is constantly brought down to earth by bad puns and simplistic song construction. This means that your teenagers will thank you for bringing them to this show.

The good moments are made even better at Studio/Stage with Chrzanowiski’s fast-paced direction and Michelle Stann’s primary-colored lights. Even with wildly uneven singing and acting, the entire cast is having a ball, and there is something infectious about that. Ryan J. Hill makes an adorable Peter Parker and Kyle Cooper is hysterically funny as his nemesis Flash Thompson (Cooper went so far as to elicit show-stopping guffaws as the high school bully).

It is amazing that Spidey was penned and staged in four weeks, but when an oddly-promising, unfinished conceit-of-a-musical is written in response to Big Bad Broadway, the irony is inescapable. Even as Moran made an inspiring point about what can be done with no budget and some heart, I wish the show were a parody of Turn Off the Dark, one that mocked and trivialized the runaway train of a flop/hit. An interesting lampoon would have contained actors getting injured by the cardboard cutouts of the New York skyline or Peter Parker becoming even nerdier in his Spider-Man outfit. Better yet, have Spiderman battle villains who are unscrupulous Broadway producers (a la David Merrick) and clever press reps (a la Jim Martyka at Theatre Unleashed) who create an enormous buzz around shows undeserving of such hype.

photos by Alicia Reyes

The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Theatre Unleashed at Studio/Stage in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on April 14
for tickets, call 818.849.4039 or visit http://www.theatreunleashed.com

 

 

{ 8 comments }

Phillip Kelly March 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I’m sorry…you’re attacking the press person! The person whose sole job it is to hype the show even before they’ve seen it? Unnecessary snark, sir, unnecessary. And it shows you have a lack of knowledge about how any of this works from the inside.

Tony Frankel March 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Thank you for writing, Phillip. You must consult me about how the press operates when you have an opportunity so that I can achieve a greater understanding. I never knew that people in the media were hyperbolic. In the meantime, a snark is a mysterious, imaginary animal, at least according to Lewis Carroll who coined the word. “Snarky,” which I think you meant, usually means irritable. That is a more apt description – for both of us. However, it does not irritate me when a Press Rep subtitles a show “The greatest musical ever written,” and it has never been seen. When a Press Rep claims that a previously produced show is a “parody” and it turns out clearly not to be, then I have to ask myself if that was the creator’s intention, because they failed miserably if it was not. There is a fine line between hype and a canard.

Phillip Kelly March 20, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Mr. Frankel,

Where do I begin, as misnomers and misrepresentations abound.

So we can be on the same page, let’s clear up the usage of language, as that is the tie that binds in this circumstance. “Snark”. You did not scroll down far enough in your google search for the word. Yes, you are correct, Lewis Carroll coined the term, but for a term to continue existing it actually takes on a definition of it’s own, beyond the initial reason for it’s existence.

As defined by the Urban dictionary, which would make it slang…do you need me to look up the word slang? Shakespeare often used slang. (That is an example of “snark”.)
snark
noun
Combination of “snide” and “remark”. Sarcastic comment(s).
Also snarky (adj.) and snarkily (adv.)

Now, with that in mind, your comment that I’ve taken issue with, “Better yet, have Spiderman battle villains who are unscrupulous Broadway producers (a la David Merrick) and clever press reps (a la Jim Martyka at Theatre Unleashed) who create an enormous buzz around shows undeserving of such hype,” is snark, but it isn’t simply snark, it’s incorrect and incriminates you as someone that doesn’t know the inner workings of live theatre, which to me is important if you’re going to throw your opinions around.

My response is clearly not snark, as there is nothing sarcastic about it, though snarky – irritated, yes – but it is also a simple challenge for you to do some research before you continue writing, but alas you have decided not to. The fact that you try to derail me by attacking my very appropriate use of the word snark points to a condescending manner, which I don’t appreciate.

Now on to the first part of your response in which you speak of “press”, as you don’t clearly state a subject of your sentence, I’m not sure if you’re speaking of yourself and your own use of hyperbolic statements (which I perceive no exaggerations in your writing, only assumptions) or Mr. Jim Martyka’s. I assume you speak of Mr. Martyka as you’ve already complained about his hyping the show, and your representation of him is what I had an issue with. So, I will continue on under the assumption that you are speaking of Theatre Unleashed’s Press Agent.

As you incorrectly state, Mr. Martyka is not press, he is not media, he is called a Press Agent (or Rep as you say) and writes Press Releases because he deals with the press, which is you. This does not make him Press, this makes him part of a Marketing Team. Now a Press Person’s job begins before the show even starts the rehearsal process. He sits down with the Director and Producer and whoever else is on the marketing team and asks pertinent questions, “What is this show about to you?”, “How do you wish to approach this show?” “Is it a comedy?” “Is it a drama?” And the Press Person and Marketing Team find some form of synchronicity in how they approach presenting the show to the public. Now if you want honesty in marketing, then you need to go back and take issue with the people that wrote ads in your local newspaper about miracle cure hair growing tonic! But if you did your research, there’s more to this “parody” thing than meets the eye. You didn’t find it funny, that’s fine, it’s your personal opinion, but labeling something parody also means you can avoid paying rights for the material. If you had done your research, and since you are press, that is part of your responsibility, not the marketing teams, or Jim Martyka’s, you would have read that Justin Moran, the creator of the show, decided to make a parody exactly so he wouldn’t have to pay for the rights. So, your snarkily taking a dig at Mr. Martyka over the use of the word “parody” is even more inappropriate, because it was a parody in it’s inception. Blame Mr. Moran for wanting to keep his show under a budget.

I’m not going to go back and forth with you, I’ve clearly stated what my issue was and is and why, initially hoping that you would educate yourself, saving me the hassle of doing so…but here I am. Take it or leave it.

Best regards,
Phillip Kelly

Tony Frankel March 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

Phillip:

No hard feelings about this. Really. I did find some of the show funny: My quote? “There are some very funny moments.”

Morans was quoted in the NY Times as saying this is NOT a parody (that is also in the review). The way to avoid lawsuit by Disney or the Broadway show was by NOT charging money. When you don’t charge admission, you don’t necessarily have to pay for the rights. In fact, Disney Reps (because they own Marvel) were in the audience and had no issue – that is why TU is able to do the show.

I actually praised Jim Martyka as clever (that was not a snark) and told the theatre company so when I attended the opening. Perhaps it was in bad taste to mention him by name. But please understand, if critics are told that a show is a parody, then we are looking to that. Did you read other reviews since our debate began? At least two other critics mentioned how the show did not achieve parody status – so Jim and the Theatre Company set themselves up.

Forgive me for consulting my Oxford English Dictionary (not Google) regarding the usage of a “snark” instead of Urban Slang – I am an old-fashioned writer that way.

Chester March 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Gentlemen, puh-LEEZE!

These online arguments and rebuttals to reviews never make you look good.

But the real reason I’m chiming in is just to mention that the Urban Dictionary is in no way whatsoever an authority on definitions. I mean, the definitions are voted on, fuh cry sakes. Not taking sides here, just saying that supporting a linguistic argument with the Urban Dictionary is even less reliable than using Wikipedia as an authority.

> labeling something parody also means you can avoid paying rights for the material

I’m not sure that’s true. Still not taking sides, and not saying you’re wrong, but wondering where you heard this. (I.e., I’m not believing it simply because you’re saying it.)

Regarding “snark” vs. “snarky”: if someone is snarky, then it seems logical that what is being spewed out is snark. Who cares if it’s correct as long as it works? (Allegedly what the press agent was thinking as well.)

Phillip Kelly March 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Chester,

Don’t undercut two obviously mature gentlemen’s intellectual argument by implying arguing is unhealthy by nature. Arguments are in fact quite healthy, unless name calling takes the place of actual arguing. I think we’re handling ourselves quite well without a guardian.

I’ve taken no personal offense with Mr. Frankel’s opinion of the show nor his opinion of anything for that matter. I’m glad he enjoyed it! The rest, we can disagree or agree. Nothing wrong with either option.

If something is parody, rights don’t have to be paid, MAD Magazine has done this for years. Talk to Weird Al Yankovich. If you listen and read up about the creator’s efforts, he specifically states this. As Mr. Frankel points out, it’s up to the director and creative people involved to adhere to the idea of parody the creator initially meant to adhere to. If another critic says it’s not parody, and Marvel Comics or Stan Lee listens to that, then the creator could be in trouble.

Mr. Frankel, I have no issue with your opinion of the show. I’m glad you found it funny! I’m pleased when people enjoy theatre. But if you found that it wasn’t a parody, then you might also feel that it wasn’t funny as they go hand in hand.

Snark has been used as a word meaning sarcastic remark for some time now. If Roger Ebert uses it, then I’d say that’s good enough. Mr. Frankel, your remark read as sarcastic, or as you put it, irritated, if you say it was a compliment, then that’s fine, but a press agent should never be besmirched for doing his job, unless he can’t get any press to see a show, which it would appear Mr. Martyka is pretty good at doing. But as you say, it was a compliment.

Apologies for the “google” remark, as it was simply an example of a snarky attitude. I seem to have misplaced all paper copies of dictionaries; none remain in my vicinity. I lie, I carry one in my briefcase…no batteries required.

Best regards…

Chester March 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Sorry for butting in if it wasn’t appreciated. However, I was NOT implying that argument is unhealthy by nature. I guess I was, though, not just implying but saying that rebuttals to reviews by people involved in the show (and though there’s no evidence in the review that you’re part of the show, there’s the strong sense that you’re either part of it or close to someone who is) usually make the person rebutting look bad. I was sort of saying, “Stop! Before you really embarrass yourself!” I didn’t realize you were thoroughly enjoying yourself. Sorry; my bad.

Phillip Kelly March 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Chester,

I am not involved in the show. I do not have to be involved in the show to have an issue with something Mr. Rohrer said, which in fact had nothing to do with the show itself.

Thank you.

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