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August 22, 2011

FringeNYC report: Weekend Edition

by NGluckstern
fringenyc fringe festival new york city julie taymor legend musical spiderman spider man lion king

Photo: Dixie Sheridan

As a San Franciscan, I had some initial doubts about the much-hyped Broadway-centric Fringe musical The Legend of Julie Taymor, or The Musical That Killed Everybody! My internal resistance monologue went something like this: “It’s just going to be full of New York industry jokes I won’t get,” and “Oh great, another musical about musicals; like that’s never been done before”, and “They just want to beat up on the most successful female director on Broadway.” All of which turns out to be more-or-less true, but what else turns out to be true is that some shows are worth their hype, and if you want an opportunity to tempt the fates and poke fun at the Broadway machine, The Musical That Killed Everybody! is for you.

Even in California, the on-going delays, budget crises, and injured actors of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, have been a constant source of am-news-ment over the past couple of years, so none of the material presented in the show comes as much of a surprise. But what does is the crack timing, powerful vocals, and buoyant enthusiasm of the cast, and the slickly professional feel of the production as a whole, despite the pointedly low-budget set (six cubes and a triptych painted in the style of Picasso’s “Guernica”) and the cardboard props, which cleverly undermine the related budgetary excesses of the ill-fated Taymor production.

Jennifer Barnhart of Avenue Q fame (she played the original Mrs. Thistletwat), plays “Julie Paymore” as an unapologetically-unhinged bitch goddess with the momentum of a Mack truck without brakes, whose persistent nemesis Lionel Weasel (Christopher Davis Carlisle), a theatre critic (based on The New York Post‘s Broadway columnist Michael Riedel) with more than one axe to grind, is more believably nebbishy, though no more personally appealing. Clint Carter does a good job of embodying mostly oblivious rock star Bruno, whose band “U-squared” has been hired to write the music as he gets a crash-course in Broadway politics, while eager-beaver Billy (Barry Shafrin), gets one in, well, crashing. The strong support cast members fill their multiple roles out with broadly funny strokes, and ensemble numbers like “Tweet Tweet Tweet” get the most laughs. Though the tortured mythology which appears in Spider-Man also ties The Legend together with the help of a “geek (not Greek!) chorus” (which was also featured in the original incarnation of the Broadway musical), there is nothing particularly high-minded about this farcical romp, which is exactly the level on which it fully succeeds. All it really lacked were actors falling from the literal rafters, but I hear they’ve fixed that part over on Broadway anyhow, so I don’t feel like I really missed out on an essential plot point.

—Nicole Gluckstern

Follow Nicole’s Fringe journey on Twitter @enkohl!

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