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TV, Comic Books
Few have a better perspective on the making of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark than playwright Glen Berger. He spent six years co-writing the script and has now penned a tell-all memoir about the tumultuous experience, Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History.
As noted on the book’s back cover, one scene — in which “Green Goblin pushes a Steinway off a skyscraper only to be sent to his own death because he didn’t realize he was attached to the piano by Spider-Man’s webbing” — earned him the job, but it also would ultimately lead to the dismissal of director and co-writer Julie Taymor.
We cover a great deal of ground in this interview, including a brief discussion of (as he mentions in the book) his reaction to sharing a co-writer credit for the play with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who worked on the project for just two months. It was interesting to get Berger’s perspective, particularly when comparing what it’s like to develop for theater as opposed to television. I’m also curious to see what musical he’s developing for Warner Bros.
After a tumultuous three years on Broadway marked by cast injuries, public feuds and, lately, dwindling ticket sales, the $75 million musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will close in January, with plans to reopen in 2015 in Las Vegas.
Although the show has been popular, routinely grossing $1 million or a week in ticket sales (at least until recently), it’s the most expensive musical in Broadway history, costing $1.2 million a week to produce. Spider-Man pulled in just $742,595 last week, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that it’s been running below the break-even point for some time now. The production has grossed $703 million since performances began in November 2010, but because even sold-out performances barely cover running expenses, investors have seen little return.
The $75 million musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been lampooned by Sesame Street and Conan O’Brien, dramatized by Law & Order: Criminal Intent, scrutinized by the press and ridiculed by comics fans. And now the most expensive production in Broadway history is the subject of a tell-all book.
The New York Times reports that Glen Berger, who collaborated on the show’s original script with former director Julie Taymor, has written Song of Spider-Man, which purports to document all of the betrayals and pettiness surrounding her firing in March 2011 and the sweeping overhaul of the production that followed. The newspaper obtained galleys of the book ahead of its Nov. 5 release from Simon & Schuster.
Ending more than a year of intermittent negotiations and aborted deals that left even the presiding judge frustrated, the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and ousted director Julie Taymor announced today they have reached a settlement in their legal battle over copyright, royalties and credit for the most expensive show in Broadway history.
“I’m pleased to have reached an agreement and hope for the continued success of Spider-Man, both on Broadway and beyond,” Taymor said in a statement. Lead producers of Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris offered: “We’re happy to put all this behind us. We are now looking forward to spreading Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark in new and exciting ways around the world.”
Considering all the drama that once surrounded the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — cast injuries, delays, a ballooning budget, terrible reviews, the ouster of the original director — it was probably too much to expect that the resulting lawsuit between Julie Taymor and the show’s producers could be settled quickly and relatively quietly.
However, that seemed to be the case in August, when a federal judge announced that the Tony Award-winning director had reached a settlement with lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris regarding dueling lawsuits that followed her March 2011 firing from the $70 million musical she co-wrote. The case was dismissed, leaving the parties to put the finishing touches on an agreement. Unable to reach a deal by January, they agreed to revive the lawsuit in hopes that they could arrive at a final settlement before a May trial date.
A settlement has been reached between fired director Julie Taymor and the producers of the $75 million Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, bringing to an end the nearly year-old legal dispute.
The Tony Award-winning director of The Lion King, Taymor was fired from the much-delayed Spider-Man in March 2011 following her resistance to making any major changes in the wake of a series of blistering reviews. A new creative team was brought in to overhaul Spider-Man — many of Taymor’s signature elements were stripped in the process — transforming it into one of the most successful, if also most expensive, productions on Broadway.
Taymor, who also co-wrote the original show, responded in November 2011 by filing a breach of contract lawsuit against lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris, alleging they violated her copyrights and deprived her of future royalties. The producers counter-sued in January, insisting Taymor “could not and would not do the jobs that she was contracted to do,” and therefore didn’t deserve additional royalties.
The producers of the $75 million Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have to pay $9,750 a week in royalties to ousted director Julie Taymor as part of a settlement with her union.
The New York Times reports that the agreement announced today with the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society affect the lawsuits filed against each other by Taymor and the producers, but instead settles an earlier grievance pressed by the union concerning Taymor’s contract rights as director. The dueling federal suits address her role as a creator and writer of the once-troubled show.
Taymor was fired in March from the much-delayed and -derided production following her resistance to making any major changes in the wake of a series of blistering reviews. (The producers contend she refused to create an original, family-friendly musical based on Marvel’s Spider-Man and instead “insisted on developing a dark, disjointed and hallucinogenic musical involving suicide, sex and death.”) A new creative team was brought in to overhaul Spider-Man — many of Taymor’s signature elements were stripped in the process — transforming it into one of the most successful, if also most expensive, shows on Broadway. It regularly grosses more than $1.3 million a week.
According to The Times, producers had hoped to only pay Taymor royalties only through her firing nearly a year ago instead of, potentially, for years to come. They also agreed to pay her an undisclosed sum for subsequent productions or tours outside of New York. Taymor, meanwhile agreed to defer her royalty payments for collaborator — they amount to about $4,000 a week — until Spider-Man‘s backers recoup their $75 million investment, which will take several years.
The producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark struck back Tuesday against a lawsuit by Julie Taymor, claiming the former director violated her own contract before she was fired in March, and shouldn’t receive any royalties from the $75 million Broadway musical.
Taymor, who also co-wrote the long-troubled show, sued producers in November, arguing that the overhauled musical violates her copyrights. She also said she deserves full credit and pay, despite her public ouster. Taymor seeks at least $1 million, as well as future royalties.
But according to The New York Times, the producers’ countersuit insists Taymor “could not and would not do the jobs that she was contracted to do,” forcing others to undertake those responsibilities, resulting in a new show over which she has no claim.
In the court filing they say Taymor refused to create an original, family-friendly musical based on Marvel’s Spider-Man and instead “insisted on developing a dark, disjointed and hallucinogenic musical involving suicide, sex and death.”
Following Taymor’s firing, Spider-Man shut down for three weeks to undergo an overhaul at the hands of new director Philip William McKinley and writers Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Glen Berger. When the musical returned in mid-May for previews, it was described as “virtually unrecognizable” from the show savaged by critics in February.
“As a result of all of the changes that Taymor could not and would not make, the Spider-Man musical is now a hit,” the producers say in their suit. “The show is a success despite Taymor, not because of her.”
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which costs $1.2 million a week to produce, grossed about $1.4 million last week, behind Wicked and The Lion King. It has brought in about $81 million since performances began in November 2010.
Another cast member of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was injured Wednesday, the first since the once accident-prone Broadway musical underwent a sweeping overhaul in April.
Newsday reports that Matthew James Thomas, who plays Peter Parker in the Wednesday and Saturday matinees, suffered a head injury backstage at the Foxwoods Theatre near the beginning of the second act. Production stopped for about 10 minutes as Thomas was taken to the hospital for stitches. Star Reeve Carney, who happened to be in the theater at the time of the mishap, stepped into the role for the rest of the performance.
Producers described Thomas’ injury as “minor,” and released a statement saying, “He is fine and will be back in the show for his next scheduled performance on Saturday.”
Thomas, who was named as Carney’s fill-in about a year ago, is the sixth performer to be injured in the $70-million musical. The most recent was Arachne actress T.V. Carpio, who was hurt March 16 during one of the show’s many fight scenes (she replaced Natalie Mendoza, who left after suffering a concussion during the problem-filled first preview). The worst, however, was aerialist Christopher Tierney, who fell about 30 feet in December, breaking four ribs and fracturing three vertebrae. He returned to rehearsals in April.
The latest injury comes just as original director Julie Taymor, who was forced out of Spider-Man in March after five delays and a barrage of scathing reviews, filed a lawsuit against the producers, demanding proper pay and credit.
Retailing | Bankrupt bookseller Borders Group said in court papers filed Friday that it will name a stalking-horse bidder by July 1, with an eye toward completing the sale of all of its assets by the end of July. The Detroit News spotlights the two private-equity firms that have placed bids to buy at least a majority of the book chain’s 416 remaining stores: Phoenix-based Najafi Cos., which owns the Book of the Month Club, Columbia House and BMG; and Los Angeles-based Gores Group — the likely stalking-horse bidder — whose investments include Alliance Entertainment and Westwood One. [Reuters, The Detroit News]
Legal | Peanutweeter, a blog that combined frames from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips with real, out-of-context tweets, has been taken down by Tumblr as the result of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint from Iconix Brand Group, which acquired a majority stake in the Peanuts assets last year. One blogger, however, argues the blog should be considered fair use. [RIPeanutweeter, Boing Boing]
Publishing | May marked the worst month of the year for the direct market since January as sales of comic books and graphic novels fell 11.21 percent versus May 2010. Chart watcher John Jackson Miller chalks up the decline to a combination of retailers ordering more Free Comic Book Day titles than “for-profit” books and publishers’ summer events heating up a little later this year. Marvel led Diamond Comic Distributors’ list of top comics for the month with Fear Itself #2, followed by the first issue of DC’s Flashpoint. Avatar topped the graphic novel chart with Crossed 3D, Vol. 1. [The Comichron]
Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has joined a coalition that includes booksellers, media companies and the ACLU of Utah in seeking to permanently stop enforcement of a 2005 Utah statute that would regulate Internet speech that some consider “harmful to minors,” including works of art, graphic novels, information about sexual health and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. The law has not gone into effect because Utah consented to a temporary injunction until the case can be decided. [press release]
Publishing | We noted in late April that Archie Comics appeared to be embracing cultural and political commentary with its upcoming Kevin Keller miniseries, which features Riverdale’s first openly gay character and his father, a retired three-star general. But now the publisher, or at least the character, is going a step further, marching into the middle of the debate over gays and lesbians openly serving in the armed forces by revealing that Kevin aspires to be a journalist, but only after attending the U.S. Military Academy and becoming an Army officer. “Even though we don’t tackle the specific issue of Don’t Ask Don’ Tell, the goal was to show that patriotism knows no specific gender, race or sexual orientation,” cartoonist Dan Parent says. “While it sounds like heavy subject matter, I tried to show it simply that Kevin, like his dad, loves his country. Being gay doesn’t effect that in any way.” [The Associated Press]
Publishing | DC Comics’ line-wide reboot has received extensive coverage by mainstream media outlets, based largely on the original USA Today article or The Associated Press report. But my favorite piece is this one by George Gene Gustines that turns back the clock to 1985 and attempts to explain to The New York Times audience the effects, and problems, of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the publisher’s subsequent attempts to streamline continuity: “… If the goal was to make the DC universe easier to understand, the end result was the opposite: to this day, fans frequently mention ‘pre-Crisis‘ and ‘post-Crisis‘ as a way to distinguish stories. Twenty years later, in the Infinite Crisis limited series, DC tried to clean continuity up again: Superman’s career as Superboy was back; Batman knew who murdered the Waynes; and Wonder Woman was a founder of the Justice League again.” [The New York Times]
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark returned last night from a three-week hiatus “virtually unrecognizable” from the troubled musical savaged by critics in February.
That assessment comes courtesy of the production’s most vocal detractor, the New York Post’s Michael Riedel, who quotes lead producer Michael Cohl as saying, “It’s almost a brand-new show.”
Indeed, it certainly looks that way. As anticipated, Arachne, the eight-legged villainess created by former director Julie Taymor, has been reduced to a minor role (she previously dominated the second act). Both the “utterly superfluous” Geek Chorus — a group of four comic fans that provided much of the show’s exposition — and the Furies — Arachne’s minions who performed the widely panned “Deeply Furious” shoe-shopping number — have been cut entirely.
With Arachne diminished, Patrick Page’s Green Goblin is given a more prominent role. Previously, the classic villain was killed off in the first act, only to make a confusing return in Act II. Now, Entertainment Weekly says, his climactic battle with Spider-Man is, appropriately enough, the show’s finale. He’s also given the only new song, “Freak Like Me”; most of the other musical numbers have been reworked.
Characters like Uncle Ben, Aunt May and Norman Osborn’s wife Emily, who had been little more than footnotes in the $70-million production, have been given upgrades as well.
In short, as Riedel writes, the show now “hews more closely to Spidey’s original comic-book sensibilities.”
However, the overhaul, spearheaded by new director Philip William McKinley, Taymor’s co-writer Glen Berger and script doctor (and comics scribe) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, creates a tangled web of credits.
Critics are invited to attend preview performances June 9-11, ahead of the show’s scheduled June 14 opening night. You can view the new trailer for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark below.
The troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been investigated by the New York State Department of Labor, lampooned by Saturday Night Live and savaged by critics. And now the $70 million musical is about to endure Law & Order‘s ripped-from-the-headlines treatment.
TVLine reports that an upcoming episode of NBC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent will center on “a high-flying, fast-crashing show” called Icarus, whose director is described in the casting breakdown as “high-strung and larger-than-life,” and “a born-again drunk.”
However, while ousted Spider-Man director Julie Taymor oversaw the production when four actors were injured — a fifth was hurt after her firing — her television counterpart will be at the helm when a performer is murdered. Of course, Taymor isn’t the only person cast in an unflattering light (this is the Law & Order franchise, after all): The episode also features a rock-star composer named Arno who’s secretly bisexual and cheating on his wife.
There’s no word yet on when the CI episode will air. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — the real one — is on hiatus through May 12 while a new creative team, led by Philip William McKinley, makes sweeping changes to the show. Opening night is scheduled for June 14.
Retailing | The bankrupt Borders Group agreed to revise its $7.8 million retention bonus plan by tying potential payments for top executives to the company’s ability to pay unsecured creditors. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn told the bookseller on Thursday it must make further changes to the proposal, and negotiate with the U.S. trustee, before he would approve it.
The struggling bookseller says that 47 executives and director-level employees have quit since the company declared bankruptcy on Feb. 16 — two dozen just this month — leaving only 15 people in senior management positions. The book chain had sought to pay $6.6 million to 15 executives, including $1.7 million to CEO Michael Edwards, and $1.2 million to 25 director-level managers in a bid to retain key personnel.
Under the new terms, agreed upon by Borders and the creditors before Thursday’s hearing, the top five executives would receive $4.9 million at most if they recover $95 million to unsecured creditors under a sale or restructuring by Aug. 15. They could get $1.8 million in $73 million is returned. [The Detroit News, Bloomberg]