Michael Cohl, lead producer of “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” says he’s “intellectually confident and emotionally apoplectic” about prospects for the most expensive musical in Broadway history.
Since he and partner Jeremiah Harris replaced director and co-writer Julie Taymor in March, a new creative team has rewritten the book to make it less confusing, Cohl and Harris said on Thursday. Bono and U2 guitarist The Edge have penned a new song and improved the ones that have been part of the show since previews began on Nov. 28.
The production recently began a nearly four-week hiatus to put in major changes.
Cohl is a concert promoter and former chairman of Live Nation Inc. He and Harris, chairman and chief executive officer of Production Resource Group, which provides lighting, audio, video and scenic equipment for corporate events and Broadway, took over in late 2009. PRG was owed millions in fees by the production.
After raising $30 million, they’ve presided over cast injuries, a half-dozen postponements of its opening and pans from impatient critics.
I spoke to Cohl, 63, and Harris, 56, at Harris’s office west of the theater district.
Boroff: Is the budget up to $70 million?
Cohl: We’ve always talked about $65. We’ve never talked about $70. Today we call it $65 plus plus. We’re not going to talk about the number anymore.
Boroff: The role of Arachne, a mythological character introduced by Taymor, will be diminished?
Cohl: Fewer lines and spots in the show, yes. But maybe it will be a more important role, because this time it’s going to work.
Boroff: Were the reviews helpful?
Cohl: We didn’t learn a lot from them but they did confirm a lot of what we were thinking. They were more free research.
Boroff: Did your focus groups also tell you that Arachne and the story were a little confusing?
Cohl: It definitely didn’t stop with Arachne. The story wasn’t working, it wasn’t clicking.
Boroff: So you came to realize you had to be more active with Julie Taymor?
Cohl: ‘Assertive’ is probably better.
Harris: You have to give the creative team their chance. I’ve done this many times and gone to the first reading and thought the show would be terrific only to turn out, it doesn’t work. We saw what worked and what didn’t work. We gave Julie, I think, an appropriate amount of time to try to solve those problems.
Boroff: Did she resist making changes?
Harris: We’re not going to comment on it. We’re still in settlement negotiations.
Boroff: How likely is it you’ll open on June 14?
Cohl: Here’s a quote from (director) Phil McKinley: ‘I’ve never not opened on time and this isn’t going to be the first time.’
Always remember the project was years deep and tens of millions deep, with an approved script and a hired cast when Fire and Rescue 92 -- Harris and Cohl -- showed up. A large part of the screw-up on the dates is thinking we found every nightmare and every mistake and every lie, and every piece of crap that the old administration had left.
Boroff: But you joined in November 2009. What you’re talking about is over a year later.
Harris: The first thing we had to do was raise $30 million. And restructure corporately. It took an inordinate amount of time just to pull that together.
Boroff: You’re both successful men. Are you concerned that this has hurt your reputation?
Cohl: It might. It’s a matter of the respect of those whose opinions I care about. Most will recognize that Jere and I stepped in dog poo and are trying to clean it up and pull off a miracle. We might not.
Boroff: There’s a snippet of the U2 song “Vertigo” in the show. Have you discussed borrowing further from the U2 catalog?
Cohl: We have, but not with them! It’s not going to happen. They’ve written a new song. They’ve changed some of the other songs to make them work better. They’re working a lot on the other lyrics to make them flow better.
Boroff: What’s the new song like?
Cohl: Talking rap meets rock.
Harris: It’s the opening of the second act. It will be very theatrical.
(Philip Boroff is a writer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)