Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- After the first preview of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Nov. 28, 2010, Michael Cohl, a Canadian concert promoter and lead producer of the $75 million musical, declared himself “ecstatic.”
“I thought the audience enjoyed it,” he was quoted saying on the website of “Entertainment Weekly” the following day. “It was a 10 out of a 10 in the category of first previews.”
Cohl and the show’s other producers recalled the evening differently in a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan.
“The performance was a disaster,” they said in the document -- a countersuit against the show’s former director, Julie Taymor. The performance ran five hours, “suffered from numerous technical problems, and had no ending.”
The 66-page countersuit includes the most complete explanation to date of why producers early last year fired Taymor, famed for her success in staging “The Lion King” on Broadway.
She sued them in November 2011, claiming that they refused to pay royalties guaranteed by her contract and violated her intellectual-property rights by changing the show without her permission. As the co-writer, she said she worked on the script for more than seven years.
Taymor’s lawyer, Charles T. Spada, called the countersuit “baseless” in a statement distributed by her spokesman, Chris Kanarick. “In her lawsuit, Ms. Taymor will continue to vigorously seek enforcement of her creative rights and will respond to the defendants’ counter-claims, as well as their outrageous mischaracterization and attempts to besmirch her reputation.”
‘Sex and Death’
Taymor “insisted on developing a dark, disjointed and hallucinogenic musical involving suicide, sex and death,” the producers said in their complaint. They said she “stormed out of meetings if changes were even hinted at and stopped talking to any member of the production who suggested that changes should be made.”
When a cast member questioned a line because it wasn’t well-received by the audience, she responded, “I don’t give a f--- about audience reaction!” according to the countersuit.
Glen Berger, who collaborated with Taymor on the show’s book, wrote that although “the show is failing,” she forbade him from discussing it with producers.
“Word of mouth is poor,” Berger wrote in a Jan. 20, 2011, e-mail to then-choreographer Daniel Ezralow. “Is that Julie’s fault? Actually, no. But word of mouth is poor because of the bookwriting. And if she refuses to substantively improve the book, and the show subsequently closes, then yes, it will be completely her fault,” Berger wrote.
Producers met with Taymor repeatedly in February 2011, after reviews called the show incoherent and audience focus groups expressed displeasure, according to the countersuit.
Producers told her that given the reaction and ticket sales, they’d be forced to close without improvements. They supported a new storyline, dubbed “Plan X” by Berger, the countersuit said. It diminished the role of Arachne, a mythical spider woman prominent in Taymor’s vision, and hewed more closely to the “Spider-Man” plot in comic books and films.
When she refused to go along with the rescue plan -- also endorsed by Bono and the Edge of U2, the composers of the show - - “the producers had no choice but to terminate Taymor as both a collaborator and a co-bookwriter,” according to the countersuit.
She was also fired as director, and replaced by Philip Wm. McKinley. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa assisted Berger on a new book.
The countersuit blames Taymor for production delays and cost overruns. It said companies owned by Cohl and his partner, Jeremiah Harris, “contributed over $20 million to support the show.”
In addition to being Broadway’s most expensive show to mount, “Spider-Man” has the highest operating costs, about $1.1 million each week.
The show formally opened on June 14, 2011, after 182 previews, and has consistently ranked among Broadway’s top-grossing shows. During Christmas week, it sold $2.9 million in tickets over nine performances, a record week for a Broadway show. Last week, its eight performances grossed $1.4 million, behind “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” according to the Broadway League, a trade group,
The case is Julie Taymor v. 8 Legged Productions LLC, 1:11-cv-08002-RJH, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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