SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
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.
Broadway | Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker and Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has extended his contract with the musical through May. Carney’s original contract was set to expire in November. “I can’t imagine a more wonderful, harder-working company than my mates on Broadway, and I look forward to being with them until shooting begins, and again as soon as we’ve wrapped,” he said. [Wall Street Journal]
Creators | The works of cartoonists Frode Överli, Lise Myhre, Christopher Nielsen and Jason are being featured on postage stamps in Norway, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first comic book to be published in the country, The Katzenjammer Kids. [cats without dogs]
Creators | Firebreather creator and former Wonder Woman writer Phil Hester is profiled in conjunction with a visit to Limited Edition Comics and Collectibles in Cedar Falls, Iowa. [WCF Courier.com]
If you’ve been following the media on Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark, then no doubt you’ve already heard “Rise Above,” the song written by Bono and the Edge for the multimillion-dollar musical. If not, the producers have you covered, as they’ve released a video of the song featuring the two U2 members and Reeve Carney, who plays the webslinger on Broadway. The video shows rehearsals as well as a few on-stage clips, but probably not nearly enough Spider-Man. Watch it above and see.
While the pre-overhaul Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark seemed somewhat avant garde, maybe even surreal, with its eight-legged spider goddess, Swiss knife-inspired villainess and DayGlo Goblin, the upcoming Batman Live struck me as pretty straightforward: For all of its bullet-time effects, the first trailer for the arena tour looked like someone had simply translated Batman: Hush into a live-action production.
But then today England’s Liverpool Echo released a four-minute sneak peek of the show, and “straightforward” went right out the window. The sequence, bathed in black light, is somehow both languid and manic, with Batman confronted first by a gigantic head of Joker, and then by his minions — who form the teeth of the demonic maw before dropping down and rolling onto the stage. The scene turns even more disturbing as the henchmen form into some kind of psychedelic majorette troupe that’s seen too many performances of Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. All the while, Dick Grayson is being held captive in … a big hamster ball.
Watch the trailer after the break (you won’t be sorry). Batman Live opens July 19 in England, and then finds its way to North America in August 2012. After seeing this delirium-inducing preview, all I can say is it can’t get here soon enough.
Broadway | Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the retooled $75 million Broadway musical, took in $1.7 million for the week ending this past Sunday, which is above the $1.2 million the producers have indicated they need to reach to stay viable. The amount made it the No. 3 musical for the week, after Wicked and The Lion King. [Associated Press]
Legal | Robert Corn-Revere, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s general counsel, discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. EMA, which sought to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. He notes that the court drew upon the history of comic book censorship in reaching its conclusion to reject the ban: “Citing the amicus brief filed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, it noted the crusade against comics led by Dr. Frederic Wertham and observed that it was inconsistent with our constitutional traditions. The Court traced the history of censorship that targeted various media directed toward the young and held that restricting depictions of violence could not be justified under established principles of First Amendment law.” [CBLDF]
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]
Theater critics and even Sesame Street have had their say on the long-troubled musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which finally — finally! — opened on Tuesday. And then Conan O’Brien took his turn, examining the assessment by Ben Brantley of The New York Times that the revamped $70-million production is suitable only for “a less-than-precocious child of 10 or so.”
O’Brien reimagines a scene from the show an elementary-school nutrition play that takes a disturbing turn about the time a G-string clad Green Goblin makes an appearance waving around an enormous banana and carrot. And then things get worse …
In a perfectly timed parody, Sesame Street has released a preview of its upcoming spoof of the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark a day before the long-troubled musical is finally set to open. The video features Grover as Spider-Man (or, perhaps, star Reeve Carney), along with a couple of felt-covered jabs at Bono. Sesame Street begins its 42nd season in September.
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]
Broadway | As of last night’s preview performance, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is officially “frozen,” meaning there will be no more script rewrites, new lyrics or altered choreography before the $70-million musical opens on Tuesday. In fact, the producers are confident enough to invite critics to attend previews over the next three nights, with their reviews to be published after the opening. “The show, in my opinion, is bulletproof at this point,” Reeve Carney, who stars as Peter Parker, told The New York Times. “I mean, as bulletproof as anything can be. And we want to do right by the people who stood by us, to help this show be seen for what it is.”
However, it’s not all good news for opening night. The New York Post reports that producers hoped the Empire State Building would be lit in red and blue on Tuesday, but the landmark’s owners would do it only if a change were made to the show: specifically, that the climactic battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin be moved from the Chrysler Building to … the Empire State Building. [The New York Times]
Retailing | Najafi Cos., a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, is reportedly interested in buying at least half of the 405 bookstores operated by the bankrupt Borders Group. [Bloomberg]
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]
Publishing | Marvel’s Fear Itself #1 topped Diamond Comic Distributors’ April charts with an estimated 128,595 copies, the highest monthly sales for a comic since X-Men #1 surpassed 140,000 copies nine months ago. Retail news and analysis site ICv2 sees the strong debut of that crossover and the performance of DC’s Flashpoint prequels as signs “that this summer’s big events may be able to reverse the downward sales trend in the first quarter of 2011.”
Retailing | The bankrupt Borders Group reportedly has been unable to find a buyer for its entire business, which could signal the end of the second-largest book chain in the United States. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in February, and is closing about one-third of its locations. [Detroit Free Press]
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.