I’ve always felt somewhat sympathetic towards Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the Broadway musical that became the punchline of many a joke from 2009-2011. Still running to this day at the Foxwoods Theatre in New York City, Spider-Man was plagued with an increasingly high budget (rumored to hit $75 million, the most expensive for a Broadway musical), a constantly delayed production schedule, savage beatings from the press (especially columnist Michael Riedel of the New York Post), and various reported physical injuries both in the rehearsal room, and during the months-long preview period of the show. It’s still around to this day, but it’s definitely not a show anyone is going to be defending any time soon.
But I personally think it got trashed a little too hard. I saw the show the summer of 2011, after Julie Taymor (the original director) had been removed from the production, and the show had been revamped by “creative consultant” Phillip William McKinley and new co-book writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. I didn’t think it was that bad, to be honest. Yet, some of the writing was klunky and cheesy, and the songs had messy lyrics, but the stage pictures were screaming “JULIE TAYMOR MAGIC,” and much of the design and special effects work is some of the best work you’ll see in New York right now. It’s not the best show, not by a long shot. But I certainly wouldn’t call it one of the worst shows in history.
The sad thing is, you can definitely see the promise of the show in the opening chapters of Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, written by Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical, and (apart from composers Bono and The Edge) the only member of the original writing team still attached to the show that currently exists on Broadway. Berger gives us a compelling first-hand account of everything we did, and didn’t, know about the creation of the Spider-Man musical. From the original producer, Tony Adams, dying in The Edge’s apartment right before signing the contract for the show, to the gruesomely slow tech period for the show, where at points, they would get through 21 seconds of the show for every HOUR of tech. Berger gives us all the details, about how he was brought into this crazy world, and the price he had to pay by staying there. It’s a fascinatingly despair tale of the highs and lows of collaboration, and how dreams and ideas once held in esteem can crumble before your very eyes.
For theatre lovers, comic-book lovers, or anyone who just wants to read a compelling story, I urge you to read Song of Spider-Man. You won’t look at musicals the same way again.