Philip William McKinley
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.
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 sweeping changes to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will include the elimination of one of Julie Taymor’s signature elements, the widely panned Geek Chorus.
Based on the troubled musical’s four original creators — Taymor, her co-writer Glen Berger, Bono and the Edge — the geeks are four comic-book fans who make up the plot as the story unfolds, serving as a device to cover the show’s complicated scenery changes while doling out chunks of exposition. As practical as their purpose might be, they were described by some critics as “useless” and “utterly superfluous.”
The New York Times reports the four actors — Mat Devine, Gideon Glick, Alice Lee and Jonathan Schwartz — were told Thursday night that the Geek Chorus will be cut when the $70-million production goes on hiatus on April 18. The newly expanded creative team, led by director Philip William McKinley, Berger and script doctor (and comics writer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, apparently has found a way to execute scenery changes without the aid of the chorus. According to Broadway World, there’s no word yet on what will happen to the performers once their roles are dropped.
The loss of the geeks is only the first in what’s expected to be a wave of major changes made in the wake of Taymor’s departure on March 9. Green Goblin’s confusing story arc will reportedly be clarified, the unpopular “Deeply Furious” number cut, and the role of the eight-legged villainous Arachne reduced if not eliminated entirely (The Times says the character, another of Taymor’s signature creations, “is expected to remain, for now, though as a scaled-back character”). Bono and the Edge are also writing at least two additional songs.
In another change, Broadway World confirms that Chase Brock is replacing original choreographer Daniel Ezralow, a Taymor loyalist who designed the show’s complex flying sequences.
Spider-Man will return from its three-week hiatus on May 12, and continue preview performances until the scheduled opening night on June 14.
The announcement of a June 14 opening night for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — the sixth delay for the troubled musical — was quickly followed by conflicting reports about a stalemate with departing director Julie Taymor.
Lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris set the new date on Friday, and confirmed preview performances will shut down from April 19 to May 11 to allow the newly expanded creative team, which includes director Philip William McKinley and script doctor Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, to implement what are expected to be sweeping changes to the show.
Within hours of that news, the New York Post’s Michael Riedel, who’s been gleeful if not always accurate in his chronicling of the musical’s myriad troubles, wrote that Taymor is digging in her heels, refusing to leave without a “hefty payday” — and the script she co-wrote with Glen Berger. Riedel cites a source as saying the standoff has caused “chaos” in what’s already a chaotic production. A show representative was quick to deny the claims, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “All discussions are proceeding positively.”
An “exclusive” early this morning from Showbiz411′s Roger Friedman, whose frequently zealous defense of Spider-Man has softened dramatically in the past couple of weeks, contends Taymor will remain credited as director and co-writer (that point appears unchanged from Thursday), in large part because producers don’t have a “hefty” payout for the Tony Award winner. That certainly sounds right, as the show’s price tag is now being placed at north of $70 million — nearly triple its initially envisioned budget. While the musical is bringing in more than $1 million a week during preview performances, it will be at least four years before Spider-Man recoups its costs.
If all of that leaves any heads spinning, The New York Times has a terrific overview of the musical’s troubled history that notes, perhaps, why Taymor’s Lion King thrived while Spider-Man has foundered: Disney reined in the director, whom many regard as a creative genius, while Cohl and other producers gave her freedom, at least up until the past several weeks:
A post-Julie Taymor Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will likely be a radically changed show, with many of the director’s trademark elements altered or removed, multiple outlets report.
Among the rumored revisions are the strengthening of the love story between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, said to have been a point of contention between Taymor and some cast members, the loss of the widely panned “Deeply Furious” number, and a clarification of the Green Goblin’s story arc (he dies in Act I only to reappear in Act II). But perhaps most notable are the plans for Arachne, the eight-legged villainess created by Taymor in 2002. The character, who dominates the second act, will see her scenes reduced or cut entirely, Bloomberg reports.
The details surfaced today, less than 24 hours after producers finally announced what many had expected for some time: that the beleagured director would leave and the critically savaged musical shut down for two weeks to undergo a massive overhaul. Philip William McKinley (The Boy From Oz) was brought in as Taymor’s replacement to work with an expanded creative team that includes composers Bono and The Edge, musical consultant Paul Bogaev, playwright and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and sound designer Peter Hylenski. Opening night, most recently scheduled for March 15, will be delayed for a sixth time, to early summer.
As expected, the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark announced this evening that Julie Taymor will step aside as director of the much-delayed and derided $65 million musical. They also confirmed that opening night has been moved from March 15 to early summer, marking the show’s sixth postponement.
Taymor will be replaced by Philip William McKinley (The Boy From Oz), who joins an expanded creative team — it includes playwright and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, musical consultant Paul Bogaev and sound designer Peter Hylenski — that will overhaul the production over the next three months. Performances are expected to shut down for two to three weeks in April and May to accommodate the retooling and rehearsals.
According to The New York Times, the producers, along with composers Bono and the Edge, told the cast this evening that Taymor was out but would remain involved in the show, although not in a day-to-day capacity.
That point was emphasized in a joint statement from lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris: “Julie Taymor is not leaving the creative team. Her vision has been at the heart of this production since its inception and will continue to be so. Julie’s previous commitments mean that past March 15th, she cannot work the 24/7 necessary to make the changes in the production in order to be ready for our opening.”
The Times notes that the producers’ press release doesn’t include a comment from Taymor, an omission the newspaper characterizes as “a sign of the discord among them.” Indeed, today’s announcement follows weeks of friction, during which the Tony Award-winning director reportedly refused requests by producers to allow outsiders to make changes to the widely panned show.