New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Legend of Julie Taymor"
(New York International Fringe Festival)
45 Bleecker Street, Manhattan

In the theater world there comes along an occasional moment when everything falls into place—a moment in which viewer and show join together and soar into the stratosphere. In my thirty-odd years in this profession, I have rarely experienced such moments. But when they do come, I’m ready to fall on my knees and thank the Powers That Be. Because then I realize why I pursue this work passionately.

Such a moment occurred this week at the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival. The show, titled “The Legend of Julie Taymor,” satirizes the Broadway musical “Spider-Man—Turn off the Dark” and that show’s director herself—the legendary Jewish-American director Julie Taymor.

Taymor, of course, has received her share of Tonys and other awards, particularly for “Lion King.” But something went wrong when she was given carte blanche to create “Spider-Man—Turn Off the Dark.” The show, in preparation and previews, went from disaster to disaster, both financially and artistically. Actors fell from the heights, while the show’s budget rose out of sight. Ultimately, Taymor would be fired, and the show, under new direction would limp into reality.

So much for the original show, still stubbornly running on Broadway, while Taymor herself has disappeared into the shadows. But what targets for satire! And indeed the current little show, playing off-Broadway in the Fringe Festival, makes the most of it. Fringe shows usually have serious limitations, given the restrictions of budget, and at best must be seen as shows-in-process—although there are certainly nuggets to be found in the dross.

And here we have a remarkable show, perfect in every way--concept, performance, design, direction. It is outrageous and hilarious, spelled out in cartoon style. All the characters are cartoon creations, particularly the larger-than-life Julie Paymore (as she is named in the script). Director/choreographer Joe Barros and designers Michael Megliola (lighting), Rachel Guilfoyle (costumes), and Katie White (props), are undaunted by their small budget and pocket-size stage, proceeding to turn lemons into lemonade. Instead of using three-dimensional objects, they offer cardboard guitars, suitcases, and so on. It works.

So does Barros’s taut direction, and Travis Ferguson’s script and David Fletcher’s musical direction. Never a wasted word or moment or musical note! Ferguson has written the book and lyrics, with music and lyrics by Dave Ogrin. Jennifer Barnhart, playing the lead character with a wild glint in her eyes and an evil smile painted across her face, never falters. But she is well matched by the entire cast. Particularly engaging is Christopher Davis Carlisle as critic Lionel Weasel (a take-off on the New York Post columnist Michael Riedel).

Of course Ferguson’s plot takes liberties with reality, as they trace the supposed rise and fall of the Broadway “Spider-Man” (in this show called “Spider-Dude”). Who knows what really went on with Taymor and her company—and the producers. But this is satire, and anything goes.

And go it does! In all, it is a memorable moment in theater. But can this satire, so pointedly (and probably unfairly) pointed at Julie Taymor, go on to a larger life? Would it be open to libel suits? Who knows. But what we do know is that, for this brief time in history, a remarkable show is working on all cylinders. God bless theater.

--Irene Backalenick
Aug. 22, 2011

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