At NCUHS: Spidey swings from NYC to Newport

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G.G. Rafuse produced this striking image as the log for The Spidey Project’s original off-Broadway production.
G.G. Rafuse produced this striking image as the log for The Spidey Project’s original off-Broadway production.

copyright the Chronicle March 12, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A musical with music written by one North Country Union High School (NCUHS) alumnus and directed by another, will swing into town on Friday, May 16, for a single performance.  The staging of The Spidey Project will benefit the school’s Art and Communications Academy and help fund its fall musical production.

Chase Gosselin, who graduated from the high school in 2012 and is now engaged in a variety of theatrical enterprises in New York City, is slated to direct the show, which has a script written by Justin Moran and Jonathan Roufaeal, and music composed by Newport native Adam Podd and Doug Katsaros.

The show was created when Mr. Moran posted a video announcing the production as a response to the long-delayed and phenomenally costly Broadway production of Spiderman:  Turn Off The Dark.

The rehearsals for that Broadway spectacular had gone on month after month and its budget soared into the tens of millions of dollars, when Mr. Moran announced on the Internet that he would produce a musical version of the Marvel comic in one month with a budget of $0.

Mark Violette, who will be the musical director of the North Country production, recalled that the announcement was covered in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  The news brought top theater talent out of the woodwork, all offering to work for free on the show.

In an e-mail, Mr. Podd said Mr. Moran, whom he knew from college and with whom he had collaborated, e-mailed him a few days before making his announcement online.

Mr. Moran “asked pretty vaguely ‘What does your schedule look like for the next month or so?’ and ‘Would you be down to collaborate on a crazy idea I’m having?’ Mr. Podd recalled.

“I didn’t know more than that, but as always, when Justin Moran comes calling, I said ‘yes’ because he’s one of those people you make time for, no matter what, with confidence that at the very least you’ll be injected with some positive energy and creativity.”

Mr. Violette said he was lucky enough to score a ticket for the show, which, as planned, ran for only two performances in New York.  After seeing it he returned as an evangelist for a production in Newport.

According to Cheri Skurdall, who teaches dance and drama for the NCUHS arts academy, Mr. Violette persuaded her and her colleagues to take on the project, in what will be its first amateur production.

The school administration has been supportive of the project, as well, Ms. Skurdall said.  Even though the show is a benefit, she noted, there will be some upfront costs, and those are being shared between the dance and drama budget and money provided through the good offices of Principal Bill Rivard.

The show will not just require actors, dancers and singers, said Natalie Guillette, who teaches art as part of the academy program.  Visual arts have an integral role in the show, and taking her cue from the original production, Ms. Guillette plans to guide her students in making do with whatever materials they can find or scavenge.

In doing this, they followed the lead of the original production.

In keeping with the scrappy attitude surrounding The Spidey Project, the show’s original cast recording is available for free at the show’s website at  Cover image by G.G. Rafuse
In keeping with the scrappy attitude surrounding The Spidey Project, the show’s original cast recording is available for free at the show’s website at Cover image by G.G. Rafuse

In an e-mail, Mr. Moran said, “The visual style wasn’t something we thought about right away.  As the video [announcement] circulated, among our volunteers were a dozen or so artists (some of whom were story-boarders and inkers for Marvel comics…) and though originally I had no intentions for a set or scenery, since all these people were volunteering, there was an ‘Oh, duh!’ moment when I thought to do backdrop scenery as comic book panels.”

The students will scrounge cardboard from North Country Hospital to make the larger pieces of scenery, Ms. Guillette said.  They’ll be working on their perspective drawing skills to provide the proper ambience as Spiderman soars around the city.

Mr. Violette said being the musical director for the production will be a challenging job.  Although Mr. Podd and his brother Matthew started out as his piano students, he said, the two have far outstripped him in the intervening years.

The show’s score includes only the piano part, and Mr. Violette said he’ll have to reconstruct the other instrumental parts based on the original cast recording, which is offered as a free download on the Internet.

“I bought a used keyboard from Adam, that I have no business owning,” Mr. Violette said.  He will need Mr. Podd’s assistance in programming his new instrument to produce all the different instrument sounds required by the score.

Mr. Podd said he plans to be in the house for the performance.

“I plan to be as uninvolved with the actual performance as possible,” he wrote. “No promises though — Mr. Violette can be very persuasive.

Mr. Gosselin will communicate with the Newport-based crew using Skype at first, Ms. Skurdall said.  At present he is occupied directing a musical at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Once that show is finished, Mr. Gosselin said he will work face-to-face with his theatrical forces.

The arts academy is not viewing the production as just another show.  Instrumental music teacher Bill Prue’s composition students are working on the score for a video, produced by other students, documenting the North Country production of The Spidey Project.

Social studies teacher Meg Norman will serve as a dramaturge, helping students to understand the context of the show, which springs directly from the original 1960s version of the comic book.

Mr. Moran said his show isn’t meant to spoof the plot of the Broadway musical, but that it stems from the classic tale of a high school nerd who must decide how to react when he is suddenly blessed, or cursed, with super powers.

Mr. Podd said the 30-day window for creating the music for The Spidey Project gave him no time to pay attention to the other show’s music.  Instead, he and Mr. Katsaros plowed ahead on their own, coming up with an amazingly rich and propulsive set of songs.

Ms. Skurdall is currently putting together her cast, auditioning students for the part of Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey, Flash Thompson, evil newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, and the other characters in the Spiderman universe.

The real competition, though, is among North Country’s faculty members, who are eagerly competing to play villains, Ms. Skurdall said.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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