After Three years, Six Injuries, $75 Million, 'Spiderman' Musical Ends

The troubled Broadway musical Spiderman: Turn Out the Dark closes this week. Audie Cornish talks to playwright Glen Berger about his book The Song of Spiderman about the production's rocky road.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: After three years, six injured actors, $75 million and several lawsuits, the most expensive musical in Broadway history is coming to a close. "Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark" ends its run this week, faced with declining ticket sales and huge operating costs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I'm a $65 million circus tragedy.

CORNISH: With music by Bono and The Edge, of U2 fame; choreography that included thrilling, high-flying acrobatics; and the show, directed by Julie Taymor of "Lion King" fame; this show seemed to have the makings of a mega hit.

GLEN BERGER: Up until the first preview, there was really no evidence that we had anything other than airtight, surefire hit. The investors, the producers - everybody just said, man, this thing is going to fly.

CORNISH: That's Glen Berger. He's written a book called "Song of Spiderman: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History." Berger co-wrote the script for the musical; and he admits that early on, he thought the idea of making this production was a bit ridiculous.

BERGER: You know, I said in a certain light, it could be construed as possibly ridiculous. I had the image in my head of a super villain looking over Manhattan and singing, but I knew that the people that we were working with, especially Julie Taymor, that was going to make sure that this wasn't about singing super villains; you know, that there was something sort of ancient and mythic at the heart of it. And I knew that it ultimately, wouldn't be ridiculous - or I was pretty sure that it wouldn't.

CORNISH: So tell us what the basic plot is supposed to be. I know some of us are familiar with the movies or the comic books. How did this go? How was it different?

BERGER: Well, you know, the first act in particular just followed the origin story and then, meanwhile, there's this sort of patron demi goddess in Peter's life. This is different from the movies, this figure of Arachni based on the Greek myth who sort of appears to him in dreams and then winds up becoming sort of a super villain after she becomes convinced that Peter Parker, as Spiderman, can deliver her from the shadows where she was banished by Athena, millennia ago after she beat Athena in a weaving contest.

CORNISH: This is where Marvel right away is like, get this Arachni think out of here, right? Like, they're not exactly interested.

BERGER: They weren't quite onboard with it, early on. You know, there was a lot of back and forth. Marvel finally did approve the presence of Arachni and we went on to write the script with here onboard.

CORNISH: There are some moments in the show in which you describe as being essentially bad choices, maybe that they didn't quite translate from the page to the stage and...

BERGER: You know, no, it's hard and, you know, in hindsight you can say, oh, well, yes, of course, what were you thinking?

CORNISH: But in dissecting the show, did you find moments where you thought, I should've spoke up. Here's the moment where I should've said something?

BERGER: Well, you know, you could have doubts, but everyone have doubts, you know, from time to time and, you know, you would just feel silly going to someone and saying, well, clearly, you know, this isn't going to work because, you know, we all thought it was going to work until we were deep into previews.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned in our introduction, numerous actors were injured during that time in the early part of development. Again, is that another moment where anyone said, hey, this isn't working?

BERGER: Well, not to downplay the accidents at all, but I think it was sort of up-played in the media. You know, there was one fellow, Brandon Rubendall, actually I can't remember if it was Brandon or Kevin who hurt himself first on this one particular maneuver and then the second fellow was injured in exactly the same way after we thought we had figured out what was wrong.

But there did seem to be, you know, an ill wind blowing. You know, it came to our luck with the accidents.

CORNISH: And we should mention, at least one of those actors also has filed a suit, right, against the show as a result.

BERGER: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That's right. Josh Kobak to replaced Chris Tierney who fell 30 feet off of the ramp. No, it was harrowing and awful and, you know, made everybody just sick with, you know, anxiety and worry for them.

CORNISH: Now, by the time this show opens, critics and theatergoers, it seemed as though they were going there to see if something would go wrong, in a way, right? It's been a very long period of previews. And what was that like for you? I mean, essentially people were, like, hate-watching the show.

BERGER: Yeah. There was a sort of NASCAR element to it. Although, at the same time, you know, you looked at the faces of the nine-year-old kids watching it and I know that they weren't thinking that. They were just here to see Spiderman. But it did - the show did take on, as I wrote in my book, it felt less like a Broadway musical and more like sort of a, you know, an enormous art installation, you know.

It felt like a sort of a capital E event was, you know, was taking place in real time, you know, in Time Square.

CORNISH: After writing, you know, a good 350 pages about this experience, what did you come to as maybe the top two or top three reasons why this was so problematic?

BERGER: Well, I guess I am a glass half-full guy 'cause I see all the things that went right, too, amazing number of things went right. And all these things along the way that we thought we had figured out, you know, bullets that we dodged and still, you know, (unintelligible) things.

CORNISH: But you describe - I mean, people have criticized the music, right? And you have The Edge and Bono of U2. You describe the process of kind of getting them to write the songs on time, right, for it to start.

BERGER: Yeah. Well, that's difficult.

CORNISH: Technical things.

BERGER: Yeah, I know, but gosh, you know, the top three - the music, for one, the original demos that Bono and Edge turned in were absolutely thrilling. However, they were these little demos that Edge had put together on his, you know, Apple computer garage band program and not really realizing that it would actually be very difficult to translate these songs to an orchestra.

You know, and then, you know, we had an ending that was going to culminate with this giant web fight and then we realized a few days before our first preview that we didn't have the web for the web fight. Suddenly, we didn't have an ending. And bringing the intangible into the tangible world, you know, dealing with the stupid world of reality became kind of a drag with this show.

CORNISH: And now, what project are you working on? Can we expect to see you on any more Broadway plays?

BERGER: I'm actually working on one right now. It's an adaptation of a Warner Bros. movie. I can't say much more, but yeah, believe it or not. Either I'm crazy or someone else is.

CORNISH: Glen Berger, he's the author of "Song of Spiderman: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History." Thank you so much for speaking with us.

BERGER: My pleasure. Thank you.

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