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‘Spider-Man’ Scribe Learns Humility From Doomed Musical

'The Song of Spider-Man'
"Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History," by Glen Berger. Source: Simon & Schuster via Bloomberg

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Just how did “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” become the priciest production and potentially biggest flop in Broadway history?

Unless sales rebound, the high-school nerd in red-and-blue tights may soon fly for the last time at the Foxwoods Theatre.

For 11 consecutive weeks, grosses have fallen short of the $1 million or so in running expenses.

Glen Berger, who co-wrote the script of the approximately $80 million musical, ponders what went wrong in his entertaining “Song of Spider-Man.”

The death of the original producer, Tony Adams, left the project without an experienced hand to oversee it and keep ballooning egos tethered to the ground. Adams keeled over in 2005 in the Tribeca apartment of The Edge, while signing a deal memo with the guitarist.

The Edge and Bono struggled to find moments to write the music and lyrics during downtime from recording and touring as U2 and, in Bono’s case, securing AIDS funds from Congress.

Director Julie Taymor somehow completed two movies during the making of the show. In her exhaustion, Berger says, passion turned into a mania and she couldn’t let go of her doppelganger: Arachne, the mythical spider-woman who confused audiences.

At one point, she described proposed cuts as a “mastectomy.”

Taymor’s Obsession

Berger said most of her unorthodox ideas, such as a “Geek chorus” of teenagers, predated his hiring. He tried to make the best of them before he was called on to simplify the storyline.

Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris, the producers who rescued the show in 2009, dismissed Berger’s memoir with a one-line statement.

“If Mr. Berger had put this much imagination into his script, the producers wouldn’t have had to hire Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa,” referring to another writer recruited during previews.

Berger remains admiring of Taymor, even after she sued him and the producers to recover book-writing royalties following her March 2011 ouster. (The suit was settled.)

He comes away from one tense meeting with Taymor thinking about “Spider-Man”: “It’s always been nothing more than a diabolical machine built by the gods to teach humility.”

“Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History” is published by Simon & Schuster (370 pages, $25). To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Philip Boroff is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include New York Scene and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the reporter on this story: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

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