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Julie Taymor could depart Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Julie Taymor

Director Julie Taymor, who just last week said she was “in the crucible and the fire of transformation,” could be on her way out of the beleagured Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

According to The New York Times, producers were negotiating Monday for the Tony Award winner to work with an expanded creative team — including veteran musical supervisor Paul Bogaev and possibly playwright/comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa — to overhaul the much-delayed and derided $65 million production. They’re reportedly also deciding when to officially open, now that a sixth delay is inevitable.

The show was scheduled to open next Tuesday, a date described in January by lead producer Michael Cohl as “the final postponement,” but The Times notes that theater critics have not received invitations, which are typically sent about two weeks before.

Taymor’s departure would, of course, be a seismic change for the trouble musical, which she’s steered from its genesis in 2002 through near-bankruptcy, repeated delays, cast departures, prolonged previews, injuries and critical scorn. Along the way, she’s been called everything from a creative genius to a megalomaniac, all the while serving as a lightning rod for criticism.

By far the most expensive and technically complex show in Broadway history, Spider-Man added another superlative to the list on Sunday: With its 98th preview performance, it broke the record set in 1969 by Jackie Mason’s A Teaspoon Every Four Hours.

Another Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark delay seems all but certain

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

When even the show’s most vocal defender is reporting on an apparent sixth delay for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, you begin to think there’s something to the growing belief that the $65 million musical won’t officially open until June.

Roger Friedman, a longtime friend of director Julie Taymor who’s used his Showbiz411 website to chastise theater critics and counter reports by the New York Post’s Michael Riedel, now says the March 15 date — described in January by lead producer Michael Cohl as “the final postponement” — is being called a “Hope-ening.”

“One source says every time the show doesn’t open they call it a ‘Faux-pening’,” Friedman writes this morning. He frames the move as a way to sidestep the April 28 deadline for the Tony Awards while giving the creative team more time to retool the show as much as possible within the constraints of the highly complex mechanics: “I am told that the feeling is that week to week the show is selling well enough ($1.55 mil last week.) that opening now, getting panned again, and then getting snubbed by the Tonys — which is likely — is worse than just staying the course and continuing to make improvements.”

This latest delay was perhaps telegraphed early last month by a wave of negative reviews, followed by reports that comics writer and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had been approached to rewrite the book, and the hiring of veteran conductor and musical supervisor Paul Bogaev.

The troubled production, which has been plagued by mechanical glitches, injuries and cast departures as well as delays, was cited Friday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for three serious safety violations for four separate incidents last year — including the one in which Christopher Tierney plunged from a platform on stage, breaking ribs and fracturing his skull. Producers were fined $12,600, a drop in the bucket for the most expensive show in Broadway history.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark cast performs on Letterman

Reeve Carney on "Late Show with David Letterman"

It was a busy Tuesday for the cast and crew of  Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that began with an upbeat appearance by the stars on CBS’s Early Show and ended with a subdued performance on the Late Show with David Letterman. In between, Bono was expected to tell producers whether he thinks the troubled $65-million musical is ready for its scheduled March 15 opening.

On The Early Show, stars Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano and T.V. Carpio brushed aside the production’s largely negative reviews, even one saying that Spider-Man ranks among the worst musicals in Broadway history. “Everyone has a right to their opinion,” said Carney, who stars as Peter Parker. “If anything, maybe thanks for — in some ways, we kind of get a kick out of the negativity, just because (of) that whole thing — ‘any press is good press’ is not entirely true, but you have to have a good sense of humor about yourself, as well. We’re just trying to make the best show we can. So it’s one person’s opinion, and I think the audience reaction is so positive every night that that’s kind of what we’re focused on, just trying to please the audience.”

Likewise, Carpio downplayed the show’s injuries, pointing out she received a concussion while performing in Rent. “Not to minimize what has happened in our show,” she said, “but there’s no flying in Rent and these things happened and nobody heard about it.” (That said, Spider-Man producers can’t be pleased by the headline on The Early Show website: “Spider-Man stars rationalize injuries.”)

On David Letterman, it was all about the music, with the trio performing the obviously Bono-penned ballad “Rise Above” (watch the video below). They might’ve been better-served by something a little more pulse-pounding, but what do I know? How about Carney’s Spider-Man jacket, though? I’d buy one of those from the gift shop (which will be stocked with merchandise sporting Greg Horn artwork).

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Spider-Man musical brings in help, could delay opening again

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, by Annie Leibovitz

Producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have brought in outside help for the beleaguered musical amid growing expectation that the show’s opening will be delayed a sixth time.

The New York Times reports that veteran conductor and musical supervisor Paul Bogaev was hired about a week ago to work with Bono and the Edge and to help improve the performance, arrangements and sound quality. Bogaev was the musical director and conductor of the technically complex Starlight Express, and collaborated with Phill Collins on Tarzan and Elton John on Aida.

News of Bogaev’s involvement comes less than a week after a report that comics writer and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had been approached to rework the book originally penned by Julie Taymor and Glen Berger (The Times says he’s yet to be hired). It also follows quickly on a rumor that producers wanted to bring in a co-director for Taymor — something a show spokesman and Taymor herself deny.

Spider-Man spokesman Rick Miramontez wouldn’t comment to the newspaper regarding speculation that the show’s opening could be pushed past March 15, the date selected last month by lead producer Michael Cohl “to ensure that this will be the final postponement.”

The $65 million musical, which began preview performances on Nov. 28, has experienced numerous setbacks, including technical glitches, serious injuries, cast departures and, early this month, an avalanche of scathing reviews from theater critics. Still, it’s the second highest-grossing show on Broadway, behind the long-running Wicked.

Big-budget Spider-Man musical turns off the critics

Patrick Page as the Green Goblin and Reeve Carney as Spider-Man (The New York Times)

After five delays and nearly 70 preview performances, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark received its first wave of “official” reviews overnight from the nation’s top theater critics — many of whom went to great pains to point out that the $65-million musical was supposed to open on Monday, at least before the most recent postponement.

The results are perhaps predictable, if certainly not flattering. Words like “incoherent,” “cheap” and “atrocious” are used, much to the production’s dismay. (Comic Book Resources reviewed Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last month, with Staff Writer Josh Wigler describing it as “awful.”)

“The PILE-ON by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for,” show spokesman Rick Miramontez said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “Their actions are unprecedented and UNCOOL!”

“Unprecedented” likely refers to the publishing of reviews before the show’s official opening on March 15, a baton Showbiz411’s Roger Friedman — a longtime friend and frequent defender of director Julie Taymor — picked up when he described the move as an “ambush” in a post titled “Spider-Man Musical: Told Not To, the Critics Review it Anyway.” That’s the same Roger Friedman who, in 2009, downloaded and reviewed a copy of a stolen unfinished print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine weeks before the movie’s opening.

Here’s a roundup of some of the early reviews that reportedly left Spider-Man producer Norton Herrick “gobsmacked”:

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At long last, the Spider-Man musical has a ‘triumphant’ finale

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (by Annie Leibovitz)

After seven tempestuous weeks of previews during which a temporary, and unsatisfying, ending was used, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has a dramatic new finale.

The New York Times reports the new, technically complex ending features a flying sequence in which Spider-Man flies “in a triumphant manner” around the 1,932-seat Foxwoods Theatre. The change comes in response to complaints that the show’s current ending — Spider-Man and Mary Jane embrace, then the curtain drops — was lackluster at best.

A spokesman for the $65-million musical would only say that the new ending involves “an airborne finale moment that will be familiar to Spider-Man fans around the world.”

Producers announced last Thursday that Spider-Man‘s opening would be delayed a fifth time, to March 15, to allow more time to fine-tune the finale and other aspects of the show. Grammy-winning record producer Steve Lillywhite was also been brought in by Bono and director Julie Taymor to work with the performers on the music.

Opening of Spider-Man musical delayed once again

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

The opening of the $65-million musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been delayed for a fifth time, to March 15, the show’s lead producers announced late today. Opening night previously had been set for Feb. 7.

According to The New York Times and other outlets, producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris said the opening was pushed back to allow more time to fine-tune parts of the show, “including a new ending.” The announcement came hours after it was reported that Grammy-winning record producer Steve Lillywhite had been brought in by Bono and director Julie Taymor to work with the performers on the music.

Preview performances scheduled for Jan. 18 and Jan. 25 also have been canceled outright.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is ten times more complicated to tech than anything else,” Cohl said in a statement, “and the preview schedule allows for only very limited rehearsal time (twelve hours per week). We simply need more time to fully execute the creative team’s vision before freezing the show. I picked a date in March that allows me to ensure that this will be the final postponement.”

The delay is just the latest in a series of setbacks for the musical, which in addition to be the most expensive and technically complex in Broadway history now holds the record for most previews (they began on Nov. 28). Spider-Man has been plagued with troubles that date back to at least back to August 2009, when cash-flow obstacles forced the production to shut down, seemingly beginning a domino effect that led to repeated delays, the loss of two stars and a ballooning budget.

Safety concerns first emerged in October, around the time dancer Kevin Aubin broke both wrists in an aerial stunt gone wrong. During the coverage of that incident it was discovered that another performer had broken a foot during rehearsals. Then came November’s problem-filled first preview, during which actress Natalie Mendoza suffered a concussion, resulting in a two-week absence and, eventually, her departure. That was followed on Dec. 20 by the show’s worst mishap, when aerialist Christopher Tierney suffered extensive injuries after his harness snapped, sending him falling 30 feet.

Despite those problems, Spider-Man still managed to top last week’s Broadway box office, narrowly beating out the long-running musical Wicked.

Spider-Man musical fills the seats, names new lead actress

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

With its planned Feb. 7 opening a little more than a month away, the beleaguered Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark began the new year with some impressive box-office receipts, a new lead actress, and a public-relations offensive:

• Despite — or, heck, maybe because of — the injuries, technical mishaps and delays, Spider-Man is the third highest-grossing show on Broadway, raking in $1.88 million during the week of the New Year’s holiday. It’s behind Wicked and The Lion King.

• Cast member T.V. Carpio was announced on Tuesday as the replacement for Natalie Mendoza in the lead role of the villainous Arachne. Mendoza left the production last week to continue her recovery from the concussion she suffered in November during the show’s problem-filled first preview. Carpio had played Miss Arrow, one of four members in the musical’s so-called Geek Chorus, had had portrayed Arachne in several previews last month.

• Christopher Tierney, the aerialist who suffered serious injuries in a fall during a Dec. 20 performance, told The New York Times that, “for a show that’s this technically complex, four injured performers is just not strange.” Lead producer Michael Cohl told Entertainment Weekly that the 31-year-old Tierney, who’s expected to take two to three months to heal, is welcome back to Spider-Man whenever he’s ready.

• Tierney appeared Tuesday on ABC’s Good Morning America with stars Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano and Patrick Page. You can watch video of the segment after the break.

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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark loses a lead actress

Natalie Mendoza

The troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark received another blow this morning as word emerged that actress Natalie Mendoza, who suffered a concussion during the show’s problem-filled first preview, is leaving the Broadway musical.

Citing anonymous sources, The New York Times reports that representatives for Mendoza, lawyers and producers of the show “have been hammering out an exit agreement for days” and “fine-tuning the language” to explain the actress’ departure. An official announcement is expected later today.

Mendoza starred as Arachne, a villain created by director Julie Taymor who plays a major role in the revised origin of Spider-Man and later becomes obsessed with the superhero. The newspaper notes that Taymor worked closely with Mendoza to develop the character’s look and mannerisms.

The 30-year-old actress, who was injured on Nov. 28 when a rope struck her in the head while she was standing offstage, hasn’t performed since Dec. 20, when her friend and castmate Christopher Tierney was seriously injured in a fall. According to The Times, she has been on vocal rest, under doctors’ orders. Mendoza’s understudy America Olivo, who filled in for her during her two-week recovery from the concussion, is expected to step into the role of Arachne.

The loss of a lead actress this close to Spider-Man‘s scheduled Feb. 7 opening would be enough of a sting on its own. But it’s particularly embarrassing following nearly a year of delays — the show was to debut in March 2010 at one point — money problems, the departures of the original Mary Jane and Green Goblin, four injuries — two of them major — and mounting criticism.

The Spider-Man musical’s problems explained, using CGI animation

Confused by all the twist and turns involving the delay- and injury-plagued Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark? Don’t worry, Taiwan’s Next Media Animation has your covered, explaining the latest developments in its customary CGI-animated, and somewhat-humorous, style.

Comics A.M. | Spider-Man resumes tonight, One Piece creator makes $24M

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | The Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark canceled both Wednesday performances to test new safety measures following the Monday-night fall that left a stuntman hospitalized with broken ribs and internal bleeding. The cancellation of the sold-out evening show was announced just three hours before showtime at the Foxwoods Theatre. Tonight’s performance is expected to go on as planned.

Producers and creators met privately on Tuesday with the entire company to address safety concerns about the $65-million musical, the most expensive and technically complex in Broadway history. Although accidents in theater productions aren’t uncommon, it’s unusual for there to be four injuries before a show has officially opened. MTV offers some context. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

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Labor union to stop performances of Spider-Man musical following injury [Updated]

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

In the wake of last night’s accident that sent a stuntman to the hospital, Actors’ Equity Association has announced it will halt performances of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark until better safety measures are instituted.

“Actors’ Equity Association is working with management and the Department of Labor to ensure that performances will not resume until back-up safety measures are in place,” the labor union, which represents live theatrical performances, said this morning in a statement released to Broadway World. Update: Broadway.com now reports that “additional safety protocols” will be enacted immediately, resulting in the postponement of Wednesday’s matinee. However, Wednesday evening’s performance, and all subsequent ones, will proceed as scheduled.

As we reported earlier, aerialist Christopher Tierney, who doubles for Spider-Man and two villains, fell about 30 feet when the cable to his harness snapped during the closing minutes of Monday night’s performance. (The New York Times has amateur video of the mishap.) He was taken by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital, where he’s reported to be in stable condition. According to Showbiz 411, Tierney suffered broken ribs and is being monitored because he was bleeding after the fall.

Inspectors from the New York State Department of Labor are visiting the Foxwoods Theatre today to conduct their own investigation. “We’ll be talking to the production team, checking the harnesses, cables, and other equipment, and trying to determine what happened, and we’ll have more information after that,” a department spokesman told The Times.

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The grim economics of the $65-million Spider-Man musical

From the "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" video

It will take the troubled Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark four years to recoup its initial $65-million original investment, according to number-crunching by The New York Times.

Writing on the newspaper’s Economix blog, economics editor Catherine Rampell cautions that’s just a rough estimate that excludes merchandising sales — those can be lucrative for hit shows on the scale of The Lion King or Wicked — but somewhat generously assumes that 96 percent of the Foxwoods Theatre’s 1,932 available seats will be sold each week.

So, yes, Rampell’s calculations require some educated guesswork, but they make it clear that, even with the repeated delays, injuries and a problem-filled preview seemingly behind them, the producers of Spider-Man still have a difficult row to hoe. The combination of an established property with a visionary creative team might seem like a formula for success, but as Rampell notes, for every Lion King or Wicked there’s a Little Mermaid or Shrek the Musical. The latter, which cost an estimated $24 million — until Spider-Man came along, it was the most expensive production in Broadway history — ran for slightly more than a year, before closing in January.

Spider-Man musical’s first performance caught in web of mishaps

From the "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" video

The good news for producers and hopeful fans of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is that the delay-plagued $65-million musical finally previewed Sunday night on Broadway. The bad, if not unexpected, news is … things didn’t go well.

Sure, nobody died, as Vulture so helpfully points out. But the ambitious, technically complex production began 24 minutes late, and then went downhill from there. According to The New York Times, Act I was paused four times — the first coming a half-hour into the show to allow the crew to free star Reeve Carney from an aerial harness. The act’s final pause, described as “the worst glitch of the night by far,” came when Spider-Man was left dangling over the audience before the stage manager abruptly called for intermission.

New York Post critic Michael Riedel, who has gleefully chronicled Spider-Man‘s misfortunes, reports that a scene in which Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) was supposed to be rescued from atop the Chrysler Building faltered as part of the building came up missing, and Mary Jane never materialized.

The performance crawled on for 3 1/2 hours, during which time some audience members walked out, one person yelled, “I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I feel like a guinea pig today — I feel like it’s a dress rehearsal,” and Green Goblin (Patrick Page) was forced to stall for time while crew members “openly rushed around to fix faulty equipment.”

Still, though, it could’ve gone worse. Right?

After the break you can watch the segment on the making of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that aired last night on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

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A glimpse inside Spider-Man, ‘Broadway’s most expensive musical ever’

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, by Annie Leibovitz

As the delay-plagued Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally prepares to begin previews — Sunday, if nothing else goes wrong — New York magazine takes us “Inside Broadway’s Most Expensive Musical Ever.”

The longish cover story serves as both a profile of Julie Taymor, the visionary director who’s been a lightning rod for criticism, and a chronicle of a production troubled by a financial shortfall, a ballooning budget, the loss of two stars, and technical difficulties that have thrust the musical into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits:

• The widely reported budget estimates, which range anywhere from $50 million to $65 million, apparently are “fantasies.” Says the show’s lead producer Michael Cohl: “They are like asking my dog ‘How much is the budget?’ and counting how many times he barks.” New York writer Jesse Green suggests the actual figure is even higher, “in the vicinity” of $70 million.

• Taymor wonders why writers even care how much the production costs: This is a drama–rock-and-roll–circus, or a circus–rock-and-roll–drama; there’s no word for it. And what do they want? Two-character, one-set musicals? How is that helping the theater?” She likes that “rock-and-roll-circus” description.

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