The Legend of Julie Taymor, or The Musical That Killed Everybody!
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
August 16, 2011
Perhaps “rock and roll circus drama” was too easy a laugh for Travis Ferguson and Dave Ogrin. That phrase, repeated ad nauseum by spectators, commentators and production members in reference to Spider-man Turn Off the Dark, appears nowhere in their musical The Legend of Julie Taymor, or, The Musical That Killed Everybody. If you’re upset that Spider-man has been under the radar since it opened in June, then you may want to run over to 45 Bleecker, where this gut-busting and very catty show is taking audiences on a twisted web of a journey through the history of a Broadway show that, for a time, broke through the barrier of New York City to make international headlines.
Watching The Legend of Julie Taymor, one realizes how strange the whole story was. A producer who dies while getting a pen to sign the contract, an ineffectual replacement, a concert promoter replacing the replacement, a world-famous team of composers who couldn’t attend previews because they were on tour, injured cast members, unprecedented delays, critics actually paying for tickets, and, at the center, a director whose desire to create art reportedly outweighed the word “no.” Am I leaving anything out? Oh, yes—Tweeters, bloggers, message board chatterati, and Michael Riedel of The New York Post gleefully commenting on Spidey’s—and Taymor’s—every move.
Who did Ferguson (book/lyrics) and Ogrin (music/lyrics) choose to skewer? Everyone! Actually, that’s not true (I’ll get to that later). Their musical has most of it: legendary visionary Broadway director Julie Paymore, whose big hit, "The Lion Cub," is still raking in audiences, is hired to direct a musical based on the popular comic "Spider-Dude." It will feature a score by the legendary Bruno and the band U-Squared (get it?), and as many eye-popping visual effects as you can imagine. All of the above happens, just like in real life, with Lionel Weasel, theater columnist of The Daily Rialto, sucking as much blood as possible, for reasons one wouldn’t necessarily expect. Also skewered, to an extent, are Reeve Carney (the current Peter Parker/Spider-man), Natalie Mendoza (the original Arachne), Evan Rachel Wood (the original Mary Jane Watson), and many more.
Julie Taymor comes off looking pretty bad here, yet again, and, in keeping with that, Jennifer Barnhart goes full throttle in making Ms. Paymore completely unremorseful. It’s a daffy, crazy-eyed, diva-tastic performance that is superb in every way. Christopher Davis Carlisle, who earns a laugh just by his more-than-passing resemblance to Mr. Riedel, is a bit too sweet as the reporter out for blood. The rest of the cast is very game, with particularly affecting work by Barry Shafrin, as Billy, the BFA with dance training who’s hoisted around the theater and, with Julie’s undoing, breaks a few bones.
Ferguson’s wickedly cutting book, often side-splittingly funny, ultimately lacks depth. This is parody, plain and simple, with no allusions or hidden meanings. Ogrin’s score is smart and jaunty, occasionally parodying the more banal moments of Bono and The Edge’s score. Their lyrics are a mixed bag, on more than one occasion not ringing true. A song for Weasel, in which he details his exploits as a gossip columnist, from hinting “that Aaron Tveit is really gay” to admitting to hooking up “Laura Bell Bundy with Sutton’s man” and feeding Jeremy Piven sushi, sounds more like chatter from the Broadway World message board than anything else.
Director/choreographer Joe Barros could pick up the pacing here and there, but it’s an overall feisty production that’s surprisingly slick for the budget they have. A particular highlight is “Tweet, Tweet, Tweet,” that finds audience members of the first Broadway preview live blogging their disgust at all the stoppages.
What I found most interesting was the list of people who got out unscathed. It includes: Spider-man’s current leads Jennifer Damiano, TV Carpio and Patrick Page, Alan Cumming, originally hired as Green Goblin, press representative Rick Miramontez, creative consultants Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Philip William McKinley, and, notably, co-book writer Glen Berger and co-composer/lyricist The Edge.
It’s likely that this large group was left out to streamline the story as much as possible, though I can’t help but wonder why Berger and The Edge were spared. Maybe it’s so all the blame could be once again dropped on Julie, as it has been.