Glen Berger, author of SONG OF SPIDER-MAN: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, has written a tell-all about the co-writing of the musical with Broadway legend Julie Taymor, along with rockstars Bono and Edge of U2. SONG OF SPIDER-MAN is playwright Glen Berger’s story of a theatrical dream—or nightmare—come true. The musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark (soon moving from New York to Las Vegas) is infamous for its $65 million production cost, cast injuries, and the inflated egos facing off behind the scenes. This excerpt from the book, published by sister company Simon & Schuster, betrays the inklings of the struggles that would plague the show’s creators.
There was no way Chicago was happening. The original intention was to have twelve weeks of performances in David Garfinkle’s hometown. But once it became clear just how much reconfiguration a theatre would have to undergo to accommodate the show, the idea of doing an almost-three-month run in Chicago just so it could all be dismantled and reconstructed in New York seemed ludicrous.
“And what’s the purpose of out-of-town tryouts anyway?” we were all asking. Oh, there was a time when artists and producers could tinker with their show in the relatively “safe” environment of a New Haven or D.C. There was a gentleman’s agreement between creators and audience, between producers and media, that no one would consider the out-of-town show as anything other than a “draft.”
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But these days? At the end of the summer of 2007, The Little Mermaid mounted an out-of-town tryout in Denver, while Shrek the Musical debuted in Seattle, and thanks to the Internet and its bloggers, the entire industry back in New York, as well as scores of Broadway fans, were chattering about every single detail of the productions. It was guaranteed that Spider-Man—already proving to be a media-magnet—would be treated like a frog in tenth-grade biology class. And those frogs never turn out well.
And did we event want feedback from an out-of-town audience? Julie kept a nice selection of rants in her rant cellar about “art by poll.” Were we not theatrically savvy enough to figure out what improvements were needed on our own? Wasn’t this mania for focus-grouping everything leading to nothing but bland, dumbed-down fare?
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And besides (and this reason was the head-spinner): There wasn’t much we’d be able to change about our show anyway. If our technical elements worked at all, it would be because a mind-numbing number of hours had been spent figuring out how to transition from one technical event to the next. Messing with that sequence in any way would send our whole Rube Goldberg contraption toppling.
Which was all to say that rewriting during the preview period would have to be minimal. The script—structurally speaking—had to be pretty much the same script from the first New York preview to our opening night some fifty performances later.
Were we anxious about this? Nope. Not with that killer reading back in July. If you looked carefully at Martin McCallum’s face, you’d see it twitch a bit when these facts were mentioned, but even Martin recognized we had no alternative.
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Copyright © 2013 by Glen Berger. Reprinted with permission of Simon and Schuster, a division of CBS Corporation.