Poor Spider-Man. Has any Broadway production—or really, any major artistic endeavor since Titanic—been savaged with so much gleeful negative attention prior to its premiere? (Even Bono, who co-wrote the music and lyrics, admitted recently, “We don’t disagree with the New York Times.”) Opening night, by the way, is tomorrow.
When the revamped show bows—sans its visionary, deposed director Julie Taymor (she was replaced with the more commercial-minded Philip William McKinley in early March)—it’ll be more streamlined than Taymor’s original vision for the $70 million musical. But it’s also lost some of her grandiose reach, particularly in the reduced role for the character of Arachne. (“I get the impression that Arachne … is the only character who much interests Ms. Taymor, but that doesn’t mean that she makes sense,” said the Times in its early review.) Now, rather than the ultimate eight-legged archvillainess writ large, Arachne has been made into a supporting role, and one supportive of the show’s hero. “She is sort of his ego,” said T.V. Carpio, the 30-year old Asian-American actress who plays Arachne. We were in her dressing room over a week ago at the Foxwoods Theatre, decorated with old Spider-man comics and framed posters of Carpio’s favorite Old Hollywood movies (Gone With the Wind, Casablanca). “You know that small voice in your head that knows the difference between right and wrong? I sort of see her as that for Peter Parker.”
Carpio has been with Taymor for some time now, since she appeared in the director’s fantastical Beatles film Across the Universe. “I first heard about all this Spider-man stuff at Thanksgiving dinner in 2006, at Julie’s house when we were still filming,” she recalled. From the wall, she pulled down a photocollage of the cast from that film to show me, including candids of co-stars Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess. “A couple days ago I was reminiscing about what an amazing film it was to work on,” she told me, sounding wistful. Since then she’s appeared in Rent on Broadway, and had a small part in the recent Bradley Cooper vehicle Limitless.
“I think we were all sad to see Julie leave,” she went on, snapping back to the present. “We all miss her.” I pressed her to explain the differences between Taymor, the dreamer, and McKinley, the didact. “Julie’s a bit more …” she began, and trailed off. It seemed she didn’t want to ruffle feathers or betray allegiances. “Well, Philip is more planned. He’s more technical-oriented. Things move quicker,” she revealed. “Julie couldn’t control when her visions came, so those sorts of things affect the schedule sometimes.” But Carpio was careful not to place the blame for the show’s long-delayed opening—it has been in previews for seven months, the longest ever on Broadway—squarely on one person. “There was a producer from Lion King”—the musical that first made Taymor a renowned theater auteur—“who was saying that six out of seven Broadway shows don’t make it,” Carpio told me. “And that it’s usually maybe 10 different things that take it down. So I think it was more that a lot of little things were just in our way.”
“Everybody has to remember we’re human,” she went on, in defense of the cast. (This fact has been underlined by reports of the severe injuries sustained by the high-wire act of making actors fly—including Carpio, who suffered whiplash when one of the stuntmen dropped from the sky onto her neck.) “We have emotional ups and downs,” she said. “It hasn’t been the easiest process.” She sighed. “But we banded together. It’s been a long journey,” she added, gazing around her dressing room before settling on Vivien Leigh, her favorite actress of all time, on the poster for Gone With the Wind.
What was it Scarlett O’Hara said at the end? “After all … tomorrow is another day.”