In what might be a perfect illustration of the maxim "too little, too late," the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the most expensive and most dangerous play in Broadway's history, have decided it's time to make some changes — less than a week before its March 15 opening.
After already rushing four actors to the hospital, postponing opening night six times and receiving unanimously scathing reviews from all the major critics during previews, the show's producers have decided to "implement a plan to make significant and exciting revisions to the production." And the first exciting revision being implemented is the addition of a new director.
Depending on who's telling the tale, acclaimed director Julie Taymor is either "stepping down" or "getting the boot." Of course, all involved with Spider-Man seem to adore Taymor and insist she is still a major part of the production, even though they are replacing the Tony Award-winning director, who also co-wrote the play, with Philip William McKinley, whose only previous Broadway credit is the 2003 production of The Boy From Oz, starring Hugh Jackman.
In a statement released to the press, lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris said, "Julie Taymor is not leaving the creative team. Her vision has been at the heart of this production since its inception and will continue to be so." They lamely insist Taymor's "previous commitments" prevent her from putting in the hours necessary to revamp the musical.
Managing to sound both obsequious and optimistic, U2's Bono and The Edge, the maligned composers for the musical, added, "Julie is a truly gifted and imaginative director. This is an epic ride, and the standing ovations we have seen from the preview audiences have confirmed our absolute faith in the project. We are listening and learning and, as a result, we have a couple of new songs we are very, very excited about putting into the mix . . . We are confident [Spider-Man] will reach its full potential and when it does, it will open."
Ah, yes. That much-delayed opening night. When might that occur now? Best estimates are "early summer." But, considering the "significant revisions" being tackled, that sounds a bit hopeful. The show has brought in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to handle rewrites and I'm sure McKinley will be restaging large parts of the action in an attempt to prevent any more performers from being injured. And there are those new songs that Bono and The Edge are "very, very excited about."
Spider-Man: Turn Out the Dark has been in previews since November 28, 2010. It's been beset with problems of near-mythic proportions — the only things it hasn't dealt with seem to be plague and locusts. Critics have called the show spirit-snuffing, underwhelming, a turkey, incoherent, inept and "so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair." This begs the question: Why did it take so long to retool the production and replace the director? Well, there are a couple of theories making the rounds.
The New York Times seems to think Taymor was doomed by her unwillingness to meet with advisors and make changes requested by the producers and Bono. The Daily News believes Taymor "doomed herself by trying to unravel the musical web that Irish rocker Bono weaved for the show. If Bono had wanted Taymor to stay, she'd still be here."
Hmm, it all comes back to Bono. Boy, Bono sure holds a lot of sway for a guy who has never before written for the stage, and whose songs have been targeted as a major problem. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "The songs by Bono and The Edge display minimal grasp of music's function in goosing narrative or illuminating character." And The New York Times said, "The songs by Bono and the Edge . . . blur into a sustained electronic twang of varying volume, increasing and decreasing in intensity, like a persistent headache." Yikes! But, hey, Bono's a rock god, right? He is definitely a legend in his own mind. Did you know he's met several U.S. presidents and Nelson Mandela?
Perhaps the strangest thing about this whole mess is the fact that, despite all the problems it faces, Spider-Man: Turn Out the Dark is doing great business. The show has consistent full houses, with attendance running at about 80% despite an average ticket price of $103. Of course, with a production cost of $65 million, it's going to have to sell out for years to see a profit. But, you know what they say: People love to watch a train wreck (insert your own Charlie Sheen joke here).