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8 suggestions for Julie Taymor's next Broadway adaptation

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As the fat lady prepares to sing for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Shadowlocked presents a smart-assed look at equally-disastrous stage possibilities...

The requisite 'fat lady singing'

The long and bizarre story of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been well chronicled here at Shadowlocked, and the Broadway musical's most recent chapter is a particularly crippling blow. Just days after Turn Off the Dark was levied with fines related to three separate OSHA violations, it was announced on March 9 that director Julie Taymor had left the production. The Broadway veteran and visionary's departure may be the final blow for the reeling musical, which has been beset by problems from the get-go, including a ballooning budget, stunt injuries, and terrible early reviews. Turn Off the Dark now has the dubious distinction of having the longest 'preview period' in history (number of shows given before the 'official' premiere) and the musical is now in for such a major retooling that the premiere has been unofficially pushed back until June at the earliest.

Simply put, Turn Off the Dark has been such a burgeoning disaster for so long that I called for its cancellation as far back as December. Unless its overhaul is swift and its success unprecedented, the show will go down in history as the victim of near-unmatched hubris, if not outright vanity, on the part of its director, Julie Taymor. Apparently riding high from her spate of recent Broadway successes, most prevalently her groundbreaking work on The Lion King, Taymor attempted to parlay her influence into a new genre - comic book film. Unfortunately, her ego appears to have trumped her painful lack of source knowledge and the fruits of her labors withered on the vine in a big way. With this massive flop trending as front page news on Broadway, and the rest of the production feverishly trying to salvage it, here (in no particular order) are eight fairly unhelpful suggestions for Taymor's next project, should she desire to cause another particularly insane musical effort to crash and burn in spectacular fashion.

Spoilers ahead...

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark's famous 'boulder scene'

Since Spider-Man has been done and it is clear that nothing is sacred, why not have a go at Indiana Jones' beloved adventures chronicled in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Watch as Indy runs back and forth across the stage, pursued by an extra wearing an enormous fat suit/boulder suit! Gasp as natives shoot a cloud of blowdarts (suspended by a thousand tiny wires, of course) over the heads of the audience! Goggle as Indy and a horde of evil Nazis break into heretical song upon the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you certainly will be "Jonesing" for action and romance!

'Bringing Down the House' moment - A fine mist spray washes the heavy makeup off of the faces of Belloq and Toht in rivulets at the climax, simulating the infamous 'face melting' scene.

2. Transformers

Optimus Prime in Transformers

If the makers of Turn Off the Dark can choreograph elaborate aerial fights between Spider-Man and his nemeses, then could a Transformers effort be far behind? Borrowing elements from Cirque de Soleil, Taymor could create the larger Transformers from multi-human constructs, properly painted in steel hues and wheeled out onto stage. The smaller ones, of course, could be single performers in changeable plastic suits, transforming to the beat of a toe-tapping rendition of 'More Than Meets the Eye'.

'Bringing Down the House' moment - The reveal that the musical's All Spark prop is several glow-in-the-dark Rubik's cubes inside a hamster ball.

3. TRON

The TRON light cycles

A choice sure to set stage adherents and fanboys salivating alike, TRON is practically begging for a Broadway slot. The musical would be fairly straightforward until Flynn's forced trip to the computer world, which would be simulated by a papier-mache likeness quickly chopped into strips and hurled offstage. Once 'inside', all programs would wear either red or blue glowing suits, while their info discs would each be attached to a cord, much like an over-sized yo-yo, which could then be whipped over the audience's heads for 3D effect. For scenes involving the Master Control Program, the menacing villain could be projected onto the theater's ceiling to mimic great height.

'Bringing Down the House' moment - Tron, Flynn, and Sark's henchmen run up and down the aisles with suits in the shape of light cycles, while the good guys' eventual escape from the arena takes the form of said actors running through the theater's emergency exit doors, tripping the fire alarm.

4. Avatar

Avatar

A quick glance at the Avatar source material lends one to think that it would be right up Taymor's alley. After all, the use of full body paint and otherworldly characters sounds very similar to techniques used to great success in The Lion King musical. So let us steal away to Pandora! Barrels of blue paint, paste-on tribal tattoos, stilts, and a rummage through old Cats props would a passable Na'vi make. The whole 'plug your dreadlocks into your dragon to form a mental link' thing might be a bit tricky, but nothing that a USB cable wrapped in hair weaves wouldn't solve.

'Bringing Down the House' moment - For the breathtaking visit to the ethereal Tree of Souls, the crew buys out the local Spencer's Gifts' entire collection of fiber-optic wire toys and strobe lights.

5. The Matrix

Neo stops bullets in The Matrix

If audiences are dazzled by Spider-Man leaping and web-slinging over their heads, just imagine how tickled they will be when Neo enters 'bullet time' mode with the help of a handy network of wires. 'The Matrix Takes Manhattan' might feature such crowd-pleasers as 'Red Pill, Blue Pill', 'There is No Spoon', and 'Nothing is Better Than the Nebuchadnezzar'. Transport between the real world and the Matrix via telephone could be achieved by an elaborate trap door system. And the epic, climactic battle between Neo and Agent Smith? Yep, wires, wires, and more wires (!!!), assisted by all the other actors moving in slow-motion during fight sequences to simulate intense battling speed.

'Bringing Down the House' moment - Yet another Taymor stunt malfunction gives the 'rooftop jumping' scene a little more realism than originally anticipated.

6. Alien

[Spoilers]

Crewmembers Ripley, Dallas, and Kane in Alien

What more could you ask for when planning a hit musical? Cramped quarters and a small cast would make the sets and blocking a cinch. Add action, shocking horror, a monster in a rubber suit, and a touch of humor and you've got yourself a winner! With more handy-dandy wires, Kane is lowered onto a stage covered in alien eggs after the Nostromo finds the crashed alien ship. Spring-loaded mechanisms see use for both the 'grabber' scene and the later 'chest-burster' surprise. Closely monitored by fire marshals, the cast ignites flamethrowers in intense and beautifully-orchestrated arcs across the stage, only to be set upon by the alien, dropping from the rafters. Every character gets his or her chance to shine, though, breaking into a 'woe is me' soliloquy right before their demise. Just because you're alien food in deep space doesn't mean you can't be fabulous!

'Bringing Down the House' moment - The actor playing traitorous android Ash whirls spasmodically across the stage before disappearing behind the curtain and being surreptitiously replaced by a eerily-lifelike mannequin filled with milk and bath beads, which is then hacked to pieces. Patrons in the first five rows are encouraged to don their plastic parkas, handed out at the door, for this scene.

7. Se7en

Brad Pitt as Detective Mills in Se7en

This gritty, neo-noir detective thriller might contain just the kind of urban realism that Taymor is looking for now that she has parted ways with Marvel Comics' famous concrete jungle arachnid. The audience watches Detectives Mills and Somerset as they find themselves on the scene of a particularly gruesome murder. Suddenly, the lights go out, and seconds later a whole new crime scene has been set up to test the detectives' crime-solving skills. For the audience's benefit, two laser-lit counters glow brightly on the wall above the stage - one to keep track of how many sin-related murders have thus far been committed, and the other to tally the number of times that Mills uses the f-word.

'Bringing Down the House' moment - Mills, with backup chorus from Somerset and John Doe, launches into a Vaudevillian, soft-shoe version of 'What's in the Box?' at the climax, with ample use of 'jazz hands'. "What's in the box, what's in the box, what's in the f*cking boooooxxxxx?!?!?"

8. The Dark Knight

The Joker, Batman, and Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

So Spider-Man may not have worked out as hoped; perhaps Julie was just using the wrong superhero. The ambitious production of 'One Knight in Gotham' would open with the introductory bank robbing scene, while a group of dancers in clown masks perform an intricate number with duffel bags and knives, periodically stabbing one another in the back until only the Joker remains. Props of note include a retractable plastic pencil for use in the Joker's infamous 'pencil trick', an XXL Huffy tricycle for Batman's Batmobile, a confetti-shooting bazooka, and a huge stack of Monopoly money filling in for the Joker's burning of the Gotham Mob's nest egg.

'Bringing Down the House' moment - The Joker's death-defying knife juggling scene, while singing the Broadway hit 'Ya Wanna Know How I Got These Scars? (Why So Serious?)'.

(Special thanks to my wife, Leora, for suggesting this article idea.)

See also:

The Tempest - the road to a female Prospero

The curse of the musical interlude

8 reasons why a Spider-Man TV series would have legs

Star Trek’s George Takei swings for Spider-Man musical lead role

Pull the plug on Spider-Man's Broadway musical

Spider-Man musical preview full of bugs

Early critics lambast Spider-Man musical

Julie Taymor leaving Spider-Man musical


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