by Geoff Hoff~
The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility was originally conceived as a reaction to the behemoth Broadway production of Spiderman, which had huge cost overruns, cast injuries, delays, more cost overruns, law suits, departing artists, bad blood and scathing reviews. That production was the most expensive Broadway production in history, with the longest “preview” period ever. Justin Moran was appalled at the $65 million spent on the show and wanted to prove that you didn’t need $65 million to create good theatre. He had a budget of zero and wrote, cast, rehearsed and opened in just over 30 days, and it, unlike its big brother, was a hit.
Theatre Unleashed has brought the show to Los Angeles with an actual budget and a respectable run. The show itself is froth, but it is very entertaining froth. The music was actually wonderful, especially given that it was written in so little time. The script is peppered liberally with kitchy humor and I found myself laughing almost from the first moment right up through the end.
The story is familiar to anyone who knows anything about Spiderman: Young Peter Parker, a sort of high school dweeb, gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super powers. His uncle, not knowing what has happened to him, tells him, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but Parker just uses his power to show off until his uncle is murdered during a robbery gone wrong. Parker realizes (too late!) that his uncle was right and dedicates himself to fighting crime.
Moran and co-writer Jon Roufaeal put some delicious spins on all that and keep it rolling right up to the end, where it kind of peters out a bit. Besides Parker coming to terms with what has happened to him, there’s no real compelling through line, so it doesn’t really much end. A small fault since what leads up to that non-end is so delightful. The show is called a parody, partly, I imagine, so they can argue “fair use” of the copyright and trademark issues in case anyone notices, but, although it does make some very fun twists on the Spiderman legend, the parody is more toward big budget Broadway than Spiderman itself.
The TU production is very simple but effective. Studio Stage has a natural cyclorama back wall and they use that to good advantage. The sets are suggested by a couple of rolling flats with pictures hung on them. The “Special Effects” are wonderfully simple and clever, and include Spidey climbing up the side of a building and flying through the air of the city, attaching his web to swing from building top to building top. With one or two minor exceptions the cast all had wonderful voices. Most of the acting was over-the-top, which was exactly what was required. They also had a band with a keyboard, guitar, bass, drums and huge sound. I’m still amazed that they were able to fit it in that small space.
Ryan J. Hill was charming as Peter Parker. Kyle Cooper was very funny as Flash Thompson, his arrogant high school rival. Ben Atkinson, as the blowhard newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson, had some of the most outrageous moments and he made the absolute most of them. (“Do you think I’m sexist? Damn right I am. But in a good way!”) The rest of the cast includes Lauren Turner, very funny as secretary Betty Brant, Krista Taylor as Gwen Stacy, Justin Baker as the TV reporter Kent Hollbrook, Darren T. Mangler as Uncle Ben, Melissa Jobe as Aunt May, Jude Evans as Arnold Winter and Heather Lake as Sarah Hill.
It was directed by David Chrzanowsky, musical direction by Jordan Ostrowski, choreography by Joanna Hernandez. The sets and costumes were by Katie Sikkema, with the cartoon art by Sebastian Kadlecik.
The Spidey Project is performed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7:30 pm through April 14th, 2012.
Studio Stage is located at 520 N. Western, Los Angeles 90004, between Beverly and Melrose.
Tickets: $20 general admission at the door, $16 if ordered online. (They also have a “pay what you can” if you bring a new book to donate to the Literally Healing program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles)
Reservations by phone at (818) 849-4039 or online at http://theatreunleashed.com