Welcome to my series “Let Me Tell You What I Like About…” The premise is basic. I am going to write about the things I LIKE about a Broadway show. My theory is this: I see a lot of shows, and in this era of snarky armchair critics on Broadway message boards, a moment of “Hey, you know what I thought was interesting” might be a welcome change. My posts so far:
Like in my SMASH Fact or fiction posts, I want to continue our conversation about the ins and outs of a Broadway show. The difference? We’re talking real Broadway shows, not a television show that’s about a Broadway show. I don’t write about everything I see, just certain shows that have things that strike my fancy or have an interesting tidbit.
Are you all with me? Instead of doing fact or fiction, we’re doing:
Let Me Tell You What I Like About SPIDERMAN.
Sorry to be a day late, I had to delay this post due to technical difficulties (my friend told me to say that).
Seriously. I’m so excited to write this. I have 50 things to say about this show, but I will stick with just a few highlights. Ready?
Oh wait, Rob (my college professor/musician husband who usually does the show history lesson) is out of town on a gig, so he can’t write the history of the show. I’ll do it. It’s about Spiderman, he’s a comic book hero, the music is by famous people, it’s directed by a famous person who then quit, and was replaced by a circus person, the show is best known for the slew of injuries early on (more on that in a minute) and it had the longest preview period in the history of Broadway (182 performances). It opened to scathing reviews. It’s is raking in money. Caught up?
I hadn’t seen it.
I didn’t really want to.
I had to go.
This is what happened.
Grab some popcorn and let’s do this. Know up front that I am saving the best thing for last, so don’t leave at intermission.
I’ll be honest, while I didn’t love the show, I had a great overall experience. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start with the audience.
What I Liked #1: You can wear whatever you want. This was important to me because on the night we saw the show I was a tad under dressed and while walking to the theater I had a flash of, “Oh nuts, it’s a Friday night and a Broadway show. I should look a little nicer.” Have no fear! I promise you that styles run that gamut. My cargo pants were instantly lost in a sea of fashions that ranged from cut off jeans and flip flops to red sequins and (very high and very wobbly) platform heels. This is a crowd of tourists and they are dressed for an event. I’m not sure what event, but an event. Maybe it’s a Broadway show, or it maybe it’s a water park. All are welcome. Please keep your hands in the ride at all times. I actually really enjoy New York City tourism at it’s finest. You can also find me in line for Santa at Macy’s the day before Christmas. I’m probably still more of a tourist than New Yorker at heart. (All my gay male friends who know my fashion sense just nodded their heads at that), so I felt right at home.
What I Liked #2: The show is friendly to the tourist who does not speak English. Perhaps since Cats we have not had a show on Broadway where it is quite so unnecessary to speak English. You might think I am being flip about this, but I actually mean it. There is room for a Broadway show that non-English speaking tourists can enjoy, and Cats was that show for a long time (and look how long it ran). We’ll take your foreign dollars for some spectacle. No problem. (Keeping those union pension and health trusts full….trust me, I did Cats for a long time on Broadway and we were happy for the foreign ticket sales.)
What I Liked #3: Fathers and sons attending a Broadway show together. You can’t swing a cat in Times Square without hitting a mother and daughter heading to a Broadway show, but try to name one where fathers and sons go together. Just try. STRAIGHT fathers and sons who are seeing a show instead of a Rangers game. Anyone? Bueller? Spiderman. It’s kind of beautiful to see.
What I Liked #4: A couple of rows in front of me there was a row of 3 couples in their late 40’s, and I loved them. Let me tell you why. The women were spray tanned and bedazzled with tall hair. The men were pot bellied and bald, dressed in shorts and polo shirts. Here’s what was awesome. The women had clearly seen the show several times, especially one who seemed to be the ring leader. We’ll call her Lola. Lola and her girl friends were huge Reeve Carney fans and they (especially Lola) would cat call and fist pump and whoop it up every time he came on stage. I always knew something big was about to happen because Lola would start to punch her husband with excitement and lean over to the other women. The best thing about this was watching the husbands try to deal with matching their wives enthusiasm (they had to or they would get punched) while also balancing that they were cheering for a guy in tights, and a guy in tights that their wives had the hots for. Seriously, the show of Spiderman has as much to do with the audience as it does with what is happening onstage (and above your heads). En-joy-a-ble crowd.
Now let’s get to the show that was happening ON stage (and over my head).
What I Liked #5: Patrick Page’s low notes. Seriously? Have you HEARD his voice? It’s bonkers. I heard that he hits an A flat and holds it every single night. Rob thought it was probably enhanced by the sound department, but my insider source says no way. That’s all Patrick all the time. Patrick Page is kind of doing his own thing up there. It reminds me a little of Nathan Lane in Addams Family because it feels like he decided, okay, you guys do what you are going to do and work out all that flying. While you aren’t paying attention to me I am going to make my own little show over here. I like the show Patrick Page is doing. He’s both funny and creepy (but more funny).
What I Liked #6: The flying (duh). It is really cool, but in the wake of the injuries last year, I had a million questions, several of which were answered by a friend who is closely associated with the show. Here are some of the very interesting tid bits about the flying. Ready?
1) None of the injuries last year came from a flying accident. The life threatening injury to the Spidey stunt double Chris Tierney (who from all accounts is a fantastic guy–but I will get back to him in a minute), happened during a non-flying scene (the Mary Jane drops, but Spiderman is just supposed to look over and see her fall). His wire wasn’t attached correctly (I think I am right) and he ended up going over the edge. FYI, the Spiderman stunt double never nears the edge since the accident.
2) There is a “fly call” every night before the show. Similar to a “sound check” the wires and machinery are tested out by the flying Spideys as the stage management team calls the cues. Fun facts about this (I love these details). Everyone who flies in the show wears a radio transmitter in their ear and can hear the “flight call” (more on this in a minute). There are actually two stage mangers calling the show at once–one is doing the lights and the other is doing the flying and automation. A stage manager friend of mine who is not a part of the show (but is pregnant!! yay!!) watched the call and she said it was incredible and difficult and stressful, so three cheers for the stage managers at Spiderman.
3) Get a load of this. Very, very rarely are all of the technical elements put together in rehearsal. Meaning–if you are an understudy who flies, you are rehearsed on the stuff that is in the show (without a lot of the set because it is so difficult and costly to run….this is normal to many shows) BUT (and this is what surprised me) you also do not fly during an understudy rehearsal. The flight rehearsals are separate. SO, yes, you are getting the point, the first time you would put all of the elements together is (wait for it) in a paid public performance.
No pressure, though. I’m sure that isn’t scary.
I hope IF NOTHING ELSE, my theater posts give you a real appreciation of what a stressful job it is to be an understudy in a show.
What I Liked #7: The lights were low, we saw Spiderman in shadow get in position for his first big flight over the audience, the music builds….and it’s still dark….and the music is still going…and it’s still dark…and I’m thinking, “Geez, they really drag this out”…and then……..THIS HAPPENED
“Ladies and Gentlemen, due to technical difficulties, we are holding the show. We appreciate your patience.”
Yes! We got to see a show they had to stop. Now listen, you probably think I’m crazy, but they used to stop the show all the time for technical difficulties, it was kind of expected, but the show has been running for a year and a half at this point and they’ve worked out all the kinks. It very rarely stops. Seeing a show that stopped was a fleeting New York moment that we all hope for (not that we are hoping for any injuries EVER) and sure enough the audience burst into applause, led by none other than my very quiet husband who started clapping before the announcement was done. It was like getting a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar. You know it might happen, but you don’t really think it will.
I (naturally) asked all the ushers and my insider sources how often it happens and the word is that it’s very rare (it’s been months). When I asked what happened, I was told that the Spiderman did not give the signal that he was ready, so they could not go. Turns out his in ear radio thing-a-ma-bobby was out and they had to fix it before they could go on. As you can imagine after the injuries, there is an extensive safety check for each flight (it is a three person check) and all parties have to give the ok before the actor can fly. The flying looks so safe, in fact (there are a lot of wires), that I wasn’t nervous at all, but I will report that I was VERY nervous about a scene where some actresses have to roll down a highly raked stage while sitting in rolling chairs and controlling rolling desks–while wearing heels. Eventually the stage slope lessens and they roll to a stop, but as I saw them start I thought, “Oh my god, they are going to roll to their deaths! Do they have on a safety harness?” (They don’t). My friend thought it was hilarious that this made me so nervous. The point is, the show looks safe.
A quick word about the actor who was so severely injured last year. He is back in the show and resumed his role within months of the fall despite pins in his back. He is still the “head flier” and actually leads a lot of the fly calls and safety checks. He was out the night we saw the show, but I am (as we all are) so glad he is okay and wish him all the best.
Don’t forget to watch the TONY awards Sunday night. Next post in this series, “What I Liked About the TONY Awards!”