NEW YORK – To see how far Julie Taymor has fallen over the past year, look no further than the New York International Fringe Festival.
That's where the visionary director and choreographer behind the stunning "The Lion King" has become an object of sniggering and outright goofing during a lively musical that rips her and everyone associated with the Broadway spectacle "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."
"The Legend of Julie Taymor, or the Musical That Killed Everybody!" — with book and lyrics by Travis Ferguson and music and lyrics by Dave Ogrin — is a spirited behind-the-scenes fictional look at the messy birth of Broadway's most expensive show. It is wicked and rollicking.
Julie Taymor — sorry, make that "Julie Paymore" — is portrayed as a crazed, ego-driven maniac who vows to save Broadway with a show about "Spider-Dude" that blends Greek myth with wind machines and 16 golden confetti cannons. She's so driven that she sleeps with the theater owner to keep the show open and at one point kills a man with her bare hands. She also may or may not have burned down the theater on opening night.
"For the scene where Spider-Dude is battling the Gods on Mount Olympus, I need the clouds to come down around the audience with hail and lightning, and I want an actual tornado to form in the middle of the house. Got that!?" Paymore, played by Jennifer Barnhart, asks her minions.
Paymore isn't the only one lambasted by this show. U2's Bono — one half of the "Spider-Man" songwriters — is transformed into a guy named Bruno (Clint Carter), complete with leather jacket, sunglasses and an Irish accent; The New York Post's Michael Riedel becomes Lionel Weasel, determined to destroy the musical; and Johnie Moore plays producer Michael Cohl as an aging hippie with a bong.
The show is one of 194 productions at the festival, which also includes the hot "Yeast Nation," a new musical by the Tony Award-winning team behind the Broadway hit "Urinetown"; "Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin' Rock Opera"; "Facebook Me"; and "Bella and the Pool Boy."
The nine-member cast of "The Legend of Julie Taymor," under the direction and choreography of Joe Barros, is funny and energetic, making up for unevenness in vocal ability. The songs are far better than you might expect, with the best being "Broadway's Burning," "Boy Falls From The Rafters" — a play on the actual Broadway musical's "The Boy Falls From the Sky" — and "Tweet, Tweet, Tweet!" as the ensemble leaks that the Broadway musical is terrible.
There's a word for this kind of show: impudent. And another one: delicious. A bunch of twentysomethings in jeans and T-shirts are mocking Taymor, Bono and the hubris of "Spider-Man," but they're also asking where art goes when spectacle is all that anyone wants to see.
In that way, the jokey musical is more interesting than the one it's mocking.