A Proposal for a New ‘Spiderman’ on Broadway: Turn on the History

Culture Watch

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News.

So now they have fired the director of the $65 million Broadway mega-musical ‘Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,’ the glitzy story with music by rock superstars Bono and The Edge and a long history of woe, from the death of a producer to city safety violations to hospitalized actors who fell from the flying rigging of the set.

The show, in the works for years, has been running in previews for months, but the opening has been continually delayed. Last week, director Julie Taymor (‘The Lion King’) was fired, the show announced it was bringing in new creative lights to re-write the story for a new June 14 opening.

They need a good new story? Here’s one, completely fee of charge, from me. Why not go back Spiderman’s historical roots?

Spiderman, as comic book aficionados all know, was meek teenager Peter Parker. Young Parker, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, was born just after World War II ended, orphaned at the age of six and raised by his aunt and uncle in Queens, New York. He came to four-color comic life in the August, 1962, issue of ‘Amazing Fantasy #15.’. Unlike his comic book hero counterparts who had unbelievable super powers, such as flying, steel skin and bat-opics, the mild mannered Peter Parker only had the mercurial ability to turn into a spider and save people from worldwide menaces.

The producers of ‘Spiderman’ should go with my story, set in 1971-72, the ninth year of the Spiderman comic series, based on true historical events.

It should be called ‘Spiderman Fuhgeddaboutit’ and tell the tale of how young Spiderman successfully defeated the five organized crime families of New York in their war that year to salvage the reputation of the police force and save eight million people  who lived there.

As New Yorkers remember, simmering anger between the five families burst into a vicious street war in which mob boss Joe Columbo was gunned down, Crazy Joe Gallo and others were killed and dozens injured. The police were powerless to stop the year long conflict.

In my new version of the musical, the commissioner called in Spiderman while the teen super hero was brooding that June. In the spring, Spiderman had been made the shortstop of the New York Mets because of his phenomenal fielding skills utilizing those spidery threads that he could fling out of his body to catch hard hit line drives and scoop up hot grounders. He could not hit, though. The sportswriters called his .113 batting average anemic and the headlines roared ‘INSECTICIDE’ every time he struck out. The Mets did not appreciate his over the top red and blue costume either, and his head hood prevented the trainer from finding him a decent helmet to wear. He constantly tangled himself up in his own webs when he came out of the locker room shower. He was also unhappy that he ranked a poor second to ‘Mr. Met’ the team mascot, in fan appeal.

Spiderman cleaned out his baseball locker, sweeping away the spiderwebs in it, turned patriotic and tried to join the army to fight in Vietnam. He failed his physical, though, because his long spidery web-shoots kept getting tangled up with doctors trying to examine him. It was also deemed that his superior flying skills in urban areas, where he whirled through the air between forty story high skyscrapers, would do the army no good in much lower jungle neighborhoods in Vietnam, where he would most likely crash into trees and knock himself out.

Out of one job and turned down for another, the intrepid teen crime fighter, also failing in his romance with heartthrob Gwen Stacy, was recruited to help the NYPD when the crime war broke out. The city’s police commissioner had many reasons to hire Spidey, as his friends called him. After all, Spiderman had already single-handedly defeated the Vulture, Sandman, Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, the Scorpion and Mysterio, so what were a few gangsters?

  1. Spidey agreed to work for free, making him the only person whoever worked for free in the history of New York City.
  2. His flying skills were legendary and he could be counted on to fly down from the tops of buildings to break up an organized crime gun battle or prevent a gangland style executions.
  3. He would be a natural co-star in ‘The Godfather’ movie when it was made later that year, playing Vito Corleone’s son Spidey, who ran the family while Michael was wandering through Sicily in search of anybody but Kay to marry (he was affectionately referred to as ‘Don Spidey’)..
  4. Spidey’s quick moves would enable him to out battle any two dozen gun toting mobsters at one time and his speed would allow him to duck bullets. His tentacles could be used to wrap the gangsters up for the police.
  5. Since the mob wars took place in the summer, Spidey would be free to go back to high school in the fall.
  6. All New Yorkers learned the theme song to ‘Spiderman: Fuhgeddaboutit’ during the crime war.

The music for the play would be not be provided by Bono or The Edge. The Edge in fact, had already fallen off the Edge. No, the musical for this 1971-72 based play would be provided by the Shirelles, one of the top American rock groups at that time (this is a patriotic play and we certainly don’t need the music of foreigners who were big in ’72, such as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones). The theme song to my new, blazing ‘Spiderman: Fuhgeddaboutit’ would be the Shirelles number one hit, ‘This Is Dedicated to the One I Love,’ renamed ‘This is Dedicated to the Spider I Love.’

This brand new ‘Spiderman’ would be a huge hit at the box office. What is Broadway’s biggest audience? Baby boomers. When was this play set? 1972, when the Baby Boomers were young; they remember those times fondly.

Another thought I had was that there are thousands of members of organized crime families in the New York City area who need something to do for entertainment besides watch re-runs of ‘The Sopranos.’. That would be whole second ticket buying audience for the play. The producers could create a special section for them and call it the ‘it’s not personal, just business’ section.

The play would star Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duval, who were so good in ‘The Godfather I’ and Robert DeNiro, the star of ‘Godfather II.’ Joe Pesci would also be brought in because under the U.S. Constitution, Amendment XXIV, all mafia movies must star Joe Pesci.

We have not come up with a love interest actress yet for ‘Spidey,’ but might go with Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, or Christina Aguillera, depending on which one is out of counseling when the play opens.

The new opening date for the play will be the Fourth of July, 2011. What better day for a play about American heroes such as Spiderman and the Mafia?

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Jensen Lee - 3/27/2011

The music of the Shirelles would be a great addition; thanks to the musical “Baby, It’s You,” there is renewed attention to one of the great girl groups of the 50s and 60s.

One of their best, “Dedicated to the One I Love,” originated with the great 50s R&B group, the “5” Royales and its guitarist Lowman Pauling.

I recently posted on my Rockaeology blog at http://bit.ly/fxSYOl the story of how Pauling’s pioneering use of feedback and echo influenced guitarists like Eric Clapton.