Back in 2005, the little-known playwright Glen Berger snagged a golden ticket of a job: writing the script for a Spider-Man musical directed by the MacArthur-certified genius Julie Taymor (The Lion King), with a score by U2’s Bono and the Edge. As a replacement for Oscar winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), Berger realized that he was the junior partner in a very high-profile project. In Song of Spider-Man, his juicy and entertaining Broadway bildungsroman, he emerges as a familiar type: the ingenue courted for the big time and then caught up in an epic fiasco beyond his control.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark became that rare Broadway show that transcended the theater world, breaking both records (for costs and opening-night delays) and bones (in a string of serious injuries to cast members). Berger provides a blow-by-blow account of what went wrong. The show’s rock-star composers were Broadway virgins who were MIA for much of its development. (”We don’t do normal well,” the Edge tells him at one point.) The lead producer was another theater newbie who scrambled as the price tag swelled above $65 million. The innovative set and aerial effects were tricky and painstakingly slow to get right. And Taymor, a dogged and grudge-holding visionary, fixated on minute details at the expense of all else. “We were getting through less than three minutes of the show per day,” he writes of the tech period. ”It didn’t feel like we were making theater so much as stop-action animation.” Two weeks before a disastrous first preview, she still had no ending — after scrapping a $1 million web contraption that interfered with the aerial rigging.
By the time the musical officially bowed in June 2011 after a whopping 182 previews, both Berger and Taymor had been sidelined. (It’s still limping along at the box office, years from recouping its investment.) Now he has crafted his own origin story, a clear-eyed tale of hubris and humiliation. B+