Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Spidey Project Hits Los Angeles

The cast of The Spidey Project. Photo credit: Alicia Reyes

Theatre Unleashed scored a coup when a series of well-timed coincidences made possible their West Coast Premiere of The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility now running at studio/stage in L.A. [Read story here]. The company was intrigued by creator Justin Moran’s mission to prove that it was possible to produce a Spiderman musical with a budget of $0 in less than 30 days as another big budget behemoth loomed on the horizon. Well, Moran did, gaining notoriety and a monumental following last spring for his Broadway parody. It was scheduled to play one performance in New York but a second late night show was added when the first sold out instantly.

T/U continued to follow the development of Moran’s musical throughout its genesis, cheering it along every step of the way. Now they have gamely picked up the gauntlet and, in the spirit in which it was created, produced a thoroughly charming and hilarious version of The Spidey Project as the opening show of their season.

In keeping with the comic book feel of the original, simple production elements include a few moving panels that become a variety of locations with the change of a wall hanging, and minimal set pieces. Comic book renderings of the prominent characters in action panels line the walls and a television screen flashes show cards that tell you where the action is taking place.

Beyond that, it’s up to the actors to bring this story to life and you can tell they’re having a blast doing it. Since the show is a parody it stylistically favors the broader style of improv, with humor best enjoyed by planting one’s tongue firmly in one’s cheek.

The story is simple; mild-mannered nerd photographer Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider, becomes superhero Spidey, and battles an assortment of comic book villains before getting the girl. It plays out in a series of fast-paced scenes filled with delicious characters, clever surprises, and a big dose of heart, all directed beautifully by David Chrzanowiski. His gift for highlighting the essential elements of the story keeps everyone on track and his fight choreography is fresh and fun. Johanna Hernandez’s movement and dance choreography carries the comedy through in the details and adds another layer of levity to numbers like “Chipotle” and “Who is the Man?”

The cast is terrific too, led by Ryan J. Hill as an adorably sweet and shy Peter Parker, so much so that his transformation into Spidey is truly an unexpected delight. Wait till you see him fly around the stage, leaping tall buildings and circling the city….guaranteed laughs every time. Kyle Cooper is his nemesis, Flash, the typical cocksure high school stud, and one villain you’ll love to hate. Cooper takes Flash to the limit and is so committed to his character that he’s laugh-out-loud funny.

The sweetheart they both have eyes for is girl next door Gwen (Krista Taylor), who can’t seem to disentangle herself from the ‘I’ve-got-my-eye-on-you’ cad, Flash. Lauren Turner makes a wildly eccentric Betty Brant who works at the Daily Bugle, along with J. Jonah Jameson (Ben Atkinson) her blustering, politically incorrect boss. And though the musical is set in New York City and it may not be intentional (or is it?), Justin Baker’s Emmy-seeking reporter Kent Hollbrook reminded me of L.A.’s own local TV reporter, Kent Shocknek. Peter’s Uncle Ben, played by Darren Mangler, has one of the funniest songs of the night, “Hero of Men,” when he mistakenly thinks Peter is complimenting him following their talk about the birds and the bees, which itself is a hilarious misunderstanding that only a well-meaning uncle can make.

Musical direction is by
Jordan Ostrowski, who plays keyboards and conducts the rocking band, which also includes Mike Walsh on guitar, Henry Gonzales on bass and Simon Thomsen on drums. They make a terrific accompaniment to the comic book world of Spidey and his friends. In a nutshell, The Spidey Project is an immensely fun, funny, and lean 75 minutes of good time.

With so much going for it, no wonder so many of the performances are already sold out. Tickets are still available for additional dates that have been added however you might also want to show up just in case there are no-shows. There were a few at the performance I saw and it’s possible you’ll get in. Plus, the role of Dr. Spiderman (pronounced Spidderman) changes every night so you never know who you might see.
Gregory Crafts played him at my performance and it’s definitely a mad scientist cameo to remember.

The Spidey Project currently runs through April 14. For tickets and more information go to

The Spidey Project
Book & lyrics by Justin Moran and Jon Roufaeal
Music by Adam Podd and Doug Katsaros

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