Friday, November 22, 2013

Behind the Scenes At Spider-Man on Broadway

If you’ve worked in theater, you have a horror story to share. Personally I’ve worked in a production of Fiddler on the Roof where the house/roof holding the fiddler tumbled over in the middle of the show and the daughters had to sweep it up while singing Matchmaker, Matchmaker. I’ve directed a production of Kiss of the Spider Woman where the theater had no heat and it was dead of winter as my South American prisoners froze to death on stage. And sometimes you have actors that completely question your sanity, vision, and if you know anything when you are directing them in a scene giving you the infamous line ‘what’s my motivation?’ But while I was doing all my shows, I did not have the glare of a national spotlight, millions of dollars piling up in costs, and 6 grueling years to attempt to bring a show to fruition.  

That’s exactly what happened with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway that has just announced after a two year run, they will be closing January 4th. Co-Book writer Glen Berger has written a very lengthy and detailed account of those six years in his book Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History. And what a controversy it was. From creative team members coming and going; stars being cast and then suddenly gone, debt piling up as the costs grew; no one certain what show they were writing and who was the star (Spider-man or Arachne), numerous injuries due to the technical aspects of the show, and how this particular man left his family upstate to spend all of his time in the city working on this show – it’s all there in his almost 400 page book. He says the original draft was over 1200 pages and thankfully an editor took a pen to it (though it still could use another pass). But if you can skim past the parts where he belabors a certain moment, it is truly a fascinating read.

Berger, Taymor, Edge, Bono during rehearsal
Using references from all sorts of stage shows as well as Greek mythology and Spider-man himself, Berger paints a picture of Julie Taymor and U2’s Bono and The Edge as the most dysfunctional family attempting to create the most amazing piece of work. Never intended to be a Broadway musical, Taymor is reported to have hated the fact the show ever went into a Broadway house. They were creating something different and unique. I will admit that when I saw version 1.0, I said it would have worked better in another venue where it wasn’t held up to certain theater standards. But I was only one blogger of many that shared their views on the never ending saga of the show that would not open. And according to this book, Berger was out there reading every single blog being written.

I read the book in just a few nights and while reliving it with him, I had to occasionally go and watch you tube clips. To see the final opening night when Taymor showed up even though there was a lawsuit going on. To watch firsthand what Berger is recounting. I went back and read my second blog when I returned to see 2.0 now knowing the drama involved where Berger never knew if he was going to be let go along with so many others from version one. It really is a fascinating read for anyone that has ever worked in the theater, created a musical, or worked in any type of collaboration. Much can be taken away from this book. I question if people will ever trust him again to bring him on board a new show. Especially if it were one to be scrutinized the way Spider-man was. But I'm sure Berger thought long and hard about that before going to Simon and Schuster with his vivid account of those long six years. 

But more importantly (and this was the part that stunned me) – Berger made me feel for these people…these characters. It’s a shame the show on stage had such a problem reaching that level of emotion when the script writer was obviously capable of making his audiences feel. Perhaps collaboration should be just that: people listening to each other, especially those hired to do a certain job.


  1. I can't resist anything about Spider-Man

    1. That must be what is grabbing so many. More retweets tonight on this blog than any in a while. Gotta be the man in tights! ;-)