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Taymor Gives Botched Spider Web Key Role in Legal Drama

Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor was dismissed as director of the Broadway show "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" in early 2011. She has agreed to settle a lawsuit over royalties and creative control with the producers of the show. Photographer: Robin Marchant/Getty Images via Bloomberg

Director Julie Taymor traces her March 2011 dismissal from “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” to a giant, disobedient spider web briefly parked high above the seats inside Broadway’s Foxwoods Theatre.

The $1 million prop for the $75 million musical was intended “to descend from the ceiling of the theater in a thrilling flight/fly sequence” at the end of the show, she said in a filing March 2 in federal court in Manhattan.

Instead, the “coup de theatre” was improperly designed by a team led by set designer George Tsypin, she said in court papers.

The malfunctioning web interfered with the rigging necessary to fly the cast through the auditorium and was removed the day it was installed, Taymor said.

Tsypin later told the producers that cuts to the second act suggested by Taymor’s co-writer, Glen Berger, were “our only chance to save the show,” according to court papers.

She said in her filing that a streamlined story “appears to have been conceived as a way to avoid the technical challenges Tsypin and his team were having with staging the finale” that she envisioned.

Broadway’s tastiest backstage drama is playing out in court papers ahead of a scheduled trial in January 2013.


Taymor claimed in a Nov. 8 lawsuit that producers violated her intellectual-property rights by making changes without her permission and didn’t pay royalties due her as a co-book writer.

In their January countersuit, the producers accused her of refusing to make changes and storming out of meetings when alterations were even hinted at. They say they salvaged the show by “their superhuman efforts to save the musical, including raising tens of millions of dollars -- much of it their own -- to fund the ever-increasing costs of the production.”

Rick Miramontez, a spokesman for the production and lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris, said yesterday that Cohl wasn’t available. Harris declined to comment. Chris Kanarick, a spokesman for Taymor, said she wasn’t available. A representative for Tsypin, who has designed operas worldwide, referred inquiries to Miramontez.

Taymor’s filing said producers made her a scapegoat to appease anxious investors. It cites an e-mail from Cohl, a Canadian concert promoter, boasting that with Taymor dismissed he was “confident we can raise” new capital.

Duplicitous Bono

Taymor portrays her onetime collaborators, including Bono and the Edge of U2, as duplicitous and inept. She said she repeatedly urged Cohl to address the spider web.

“I think we need to get into the reality of the problematic giant web/ring as soon as possible,” she wrote to Cohl in early September 2010, more than two months before previews began, according to court papers.

“There may be a certain amount of denial going on and postponing a radical solution is not good.”

Taymor blamed the web failure for why early previews had an anticlimactic ending.

In describing the response to “Spider-Man,” Taymor’s filing quotes selectively from reviews published in early 2011 before she was fired.

She quotes John Lahr in the New Yorker, who wrote that her staging is “bold, elegant and eloquent.” She omits his reference to “narrative impoverishment” and that “everything happening behind the actors is brilliant and everything happening between them is banal.”

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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