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Theater Review (L.A.): The Spidey Project Swings into Hollywood

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On February 11th, 2011, New York-based actor/writer Justin Moran, appalled by the budgetary excesses of the problem-plagued and frequently-stalled Broadway musical, Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, threw down the gauntlet via YouTube, asserting that he could write, score, cast, stage, advertise and and open a Spider-Man musical on a nonexistent budget by March 14th, one day before the opening of the bloated spectacle.

Moran says he posted the video at 3 a.m., never thinking it would extend beyond his own circle of friends, but he woke up to find his voicemail full, hundreds of Facebook friend requests and even messages from Broadway pros who wanted to participate. With that, The Spidey Project: WIth Great Power Comes Great Responsibility was born.

Needless to say, Moran made his deadline (even though the other show didn’t). And his worries about…ahem…copyright issues were alleviated when executives from Disney Theatrical (the muscle behind SM: TOTD) came to see the show.

This month, The Spidey Project is making its West Coast premiere via the Theatre Unleashed company, and it certainly lives up to the hype. Proudly wearing its impoverished heart on its sleeve, it nevertheless boasts an appealing, talented ensemble, a solid back-up band and enjoyable musical numbers.

David Chrzanowski, director of the Los Angeles production, says he added 15 minutes to the original’s brief 60-minute running time to focus more on the acting. He also expanded the cast from eight to 10, which allows for richer ensemble singing.

Ryan J. Hill plays Peter Parker/Spiderman with tons of energy. He’s a little guy, but he can really bounce off the stage walls. Kyle Cooper is an equally energetic Flash Thompson, Peter’s rival for the heart of cute Gwen Stacy (Krista Taylor), and his “Chipotle” number is one of the show’s comedic high points. Ben Atkinson is a crackup as Peter’s fast-talking boss, J. Jonah Jameson, and Lauren Turner is amusing as Jameson’s assistant, Betty Brant. Also fun are Melissa Jobe and Darren T. Mangler as Peter’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben. The chorus is enthusiastic and sounds great, and the intimacy of the space makes that enthusiasm infectious. The audience I was with roared appreciatively throughout.

Never forgetting the original’s humble beginnings, the staging is intentionally spare. When Peter/Spiderman swings through the concrete jungle, he’s accompanied by actors waving illustrations of skyscrapers. And his slo-mo fights with various low-budget villains (during which they make sure to freeze for photo-ops) are a scream.

Speaking of intimacy, the four-member band is ensconced in a closet off to the side of the stage whose door is ceremoniously opened when it’s time to start the main theme.

Theatre Unleashed’s managing director, Gregory Crafts, says they’ve contacted the organizers of Comic-Con International to perform Spidey at this year’s WonderCon in Anaheim and Comic-Con in San Diego. They’d be fools to refuse—not only are these perfect venues for the show, I can easily see it becoming an annual event.

The Spidey Project, with book and lyrics by Justin Moran and Jon Roufaeal and music by Adam Podd and Doug Katsaros, plays at Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hollywood.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; select Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; through April 14th. Reservations can be made by calling (818) 849-4039 or online.

Photos: Alicia Reyes

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.