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Big Changes For Beleaguered 'Spider-Man'

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Big Changes For Beleaguered 'Spider-Man'

Theater

Big Changes For Beleaguered 'Spider-Man'

Big Changes For Beleaguered 'Spider-Man'

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The beleaguered, big-bucks musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has decided to go back to the drawing board. Julie Taymor — the show's director, writer, and creative wunderkind — is out and a new creative team is in. The show will shut down previews for three weeks to overhaul itself before a June opening.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The real-life backstage drama surrounding the Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has had more twists and turns than well, a comic book. And this week, the plot took an even more incredible turn when it was announced that Julie Taymor, the shows co-author and director, is leaving the production. Jeff Lunden has more.

JEFF LUNDEN: Audiences who attend "Spider-Man" are greeted by a little paragraph in the playbill, titled "The Myth of Arachne." It reads, quote: The ancient Greeks reserved a special word for the sort of arrogance that makes you forget your own humanity. That word was hubris.

And after telling the story of the young woman who offended the goddess Athena and was turned into a spider, it ends, quote: Arachne was doomed to live and weave alone alone and forever - nevermore in the light.

(Soundbite of song "The Boy Falls From the Sky")

BONO (Lead singer, U2): (Singing) See how the boy falls from the sky.

LUNDEN: Now, what Arachne has to do with the cartoon hero Peter Parker, the Queens teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops superpowers, has been one of the head-scratching questions hanging over "Spider-Man" from the beginning. And not a few observers have thought Julie Taymor, the MacArthur genius grant director, is guilty of hubris.

Bloomberg News' theater critic, Jeremy Gerard.

Mr. JEREMY GERARD (Theater Critic, Bloomberg News): This was going to be the big follow-up to "The Lion King" - that the person who had brought to life, really, an animated story would do that again with "Spider-Man." And here, she was working with all these big, boldface names, the two guys from U2 - Bono and the Edge - and they were going to create, in Julie's vision, an American myth.

LUNDEN: But it didn't quite work out that way. After multiple delays, injuries to cast members, and the longest preview period in Broadway history, the major critics attended "Spider-Man" in February, even though the show hadn't officially opened, and unanimously gave it a thumbs down. Most of the criticism was leveled at Taymor.

Mr. MICHAEL COHL (Lead Producer, "Spider-Man"): We've read the reviews. In some ways, it sucks that they broke the embargo and came in and reviewed it. On the other hand, it's kind of like a freebie.

LUNDEN: Rock promoter Michael Cohl is "Spider-Man's" lead producer.

Mr. COHL: There's really no rule, is there, that says you have to, you know, give up on your show. And we want to keep improving it.

LUNDEN: So after 100 previews, Cohl announced this week that "Spider-Man" was getting a reboot without Taymor, who officially has quote, previous commitments but unofficially, didn't want to continue to make changes to the show.

New members have been added to the creative team: playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has actually written some "Spider-Man" comics, and director Philip William McKinley. Jeremy Gerard says it's a big shift.

Mr. GERARD: The new director has directed the Ringling Brothers Circus as well as the Peter Allen vehicle, "The Boy from Oz." And looking at that tells me that the producers are trying to make the storyline coherent, and make it a much more sellable piece of work than what they were getting from Julie.

LUNDEN: Bono and the Edge are getting in the act, too, with some new songs.

The technically complex show will go on hiatus for three weeks starting April 19th to lay in all the planned changes - which, of course, will raise the record-breaking $65 million already spent.

That might not actually be a problem, says Broadway historian Laurence Maslon.

Mr. LAURENCE MASLON (Broadway Historian): Nowadays, Broadway isn't the end game. Having it play all over the world, having it play in Las Vegas, having it play in Tokyo, having it play in stadiums - that's where the end result of the finances could be. So in many ways, the producers of "Spider-Man," I think, are very smart to take the long view on this.

LUNDEN: "Spider-Man" has rescheduled its opening for Tuesday, June 14.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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