With the end of July fast approaching it’s been almost nine months since Broadway’s Spider-Man musical began previewing, crashing and indeed burning in the spiritual home of musical theatre. The show was marred by pitfalls and accidents aplenty, including poor reviews, dubious plot lines and the serious injury of an actor after he fell 30ft during a performance. But the biggest issue for this high-flying musical extravaganza to overcome surely has to be the truly heinous, contrived and frankly absurd nature of its conception.
If I were a crueller person I might take a moment of morbid pleasure at the thought of the arachnid-adoring kiddies in the audience watching their hero being cast into the orchestra pit by the Green Goblin. How majestically Spider Man must have tumbled, 7 minutes before the end of the show, from the platform in the grand finale, blissfully unaware until the final moment that his harness wasn’t attached to anything (Mr Tierney has, I hasten to add, made a full recovery). I would snort cynically before simply dismissing the whole ludicrous spectacle from my mind, but I found myself dwelling on the absurdity of Spider-Man the Musical and concluded that it was time to investigate.
You could be forgiven for thinking, or at least hoping, that a musical about a Marvel comic book character might simply stem from Hollywood’s current obsession with all things superhero-esque. See Iron Man, Transformers, Captain America, The Green Hornet etc etc. Everyone is familiar, I am sure, with the crime against humanity that is Jerry Springer the Opera. What’s more, unlike the pre-reworking flop that was Spidey’s attempt at the Broadway big time, Jerry Springer was a roaring success, and not just in the States. Oh no, we Brits lapped it up as well.
I was astounded to discover that the Royal Opera House for a time played host to an opera of a similar style. I beg you for a few moments to allow your minds to consider sitting through an opera about the life of Anna Nicole Smith. That’s right people, Playboy’s playmate of the year 1993 is now immortalised in a ‘hybrid’ of Jazz and Broadway music that ran for six performances in the centre of London. The opera was described by the composers as being ‘more accessible to a broader audience,’ which I must say relieves me a great deal. A lover of the arts I am but I confess I struggle with opera, and just when I was thinking to myself, ‘if only there were a style of opera that really appealed to me, a common minimum wage average Joe,’ they came up with this, a soprano dressed up as a bunny girl. Fear not plebs of England we can enjoy the higher arts after all, they just have to make it about drug abuse and soft-core porn.
But I’m being unfair; theatres everywhere are making true efforts to engage the uneducated masses in musical theatre. On particular company (High Tide theatre to be precise) has deemed us worthy of a more serious subject matter. Nicked follows the rise and fall of Britain’s most famous contemporary underdog, Nick Clegg. If you found all that hung parliament nonsense hard to follow, worry not, High Tide has the answer. Nicked shows the turbulent relationship between Clegg and Cameron after the disaster of the general election and, as if it could get any better, has a hip hop theme. Composer Natalia Sheppard said that she tried to give the different political opinions different themes, the Tories have hip hop tracks while the Lib-Dems have more soulful sounds. Apparently the ‘verbal dexterity’ of politics is replicated in the rapping, or some rubbish like that. I know what you’re thinking, ‘what about poor old Gordon Brown?!’ I suggest a ten year old playing This Old Man on the bassoon.
When did musical theatre lose its grip on sanity? When did we replace show-stopping numbers and tales of good and happiness for sleaze, cheap wire tricks and political hip hop? Ok Cats was never highly rated for its highbrow subject matter but at least shows like Chicago and Footloose clung on to a bit of class. At least they boasted catchy tunes and passable plot lines. When did the theatre become a pantomime? Did it slip away from us in the night and run off to hitch its skirts up and flaunt its legs with Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith in a desperate attempt to fill seats? If all this is an effort to bring in a wider clientele then I’m insulted. But if it’s a consequence of audience responses then I am truly ashamed.