Producers file legal defense, counterclaims

Producers of Broadway tuner “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” fired back at director Julie Taymor with a legal defense and countersuit filed in response to the suit Taymor brought against them last year.

Filed in district court for the Southern District of New York, the “Spider-Man” producers’ counterclaims allege that Taymor is not in fact the co-writer of the original book as she’s currently credited, and characterize her legal push for royalty payments as an attempt to profit from the work of others. The suit also accuses her of breach of contract for her alleged refusal and inability to make changes to the script as requested by producers and other collaborators.

“The show is a success despite Taymor, not because of her,” according to the suit.

The new legal action reps the latest volley in the fallout from the $75 million musical’s tortured road to opening night, encompassing obstacles including funding failures, production delays and performer injuries that turned into international news. In March 2011, after more than three months of preview perfs, Taymor exited the production while director Philip William McKinley and book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa were brought in to re-tool the show.

Much of the producers’ Jan. 17 filing reps a line-by-line refutation of the claims Taymor’s camp made in a Nov. 8 filing alleging the director hadn’t been paid proper author royalties. The producers respond by asserting that for the “old book” of the musical — as opposed to the “new book” penned by Aguirre-Sacasa and Glen Berger, incorporated after a production hiatus in the spring — the real writing work was shouldered by co-writer Berger.

Producers also argue that Taymor’s copyright claims on story elements don’t hold, since the majority of those elements are drawn from pre-existing sources including the “Spider-Man” comicbooks and films. They additionally bat back at Taymor’s legal attempt to nix non-Broadway incarnations of “Spider-Man,” arguing she has no contractual say in the matter.

In response to the countersuit, Taymor’s lawyers reponded, “The defendants’ counterclaims against Ms. Taymor are baseless, although not surprising given their previous treatment of her. 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 mischaracterizations and attempts to besmirch her reputation.”

The Jan. 17 filing reads like a producers’-eye view of the turmoil that publicly engulfed “Spider-Man” during its preview period. The counterclaims paint Taymor as a stubborn director who stopped talking to collaborators and remained unresponsive in meetings every time the producers and collaborators asked her to shift the production away from her dark, arty vision of the “Spider-Man” story.

By the time the show opened in June, the “Spider-Man” team made a public show of seeming reconciliation, with Taymor appearing alongside other creatives at the tuner’s opening night. With the filing of Taymor’s author’s rights suit in November, however, that facade crumbled.

Meanwhile, producers also filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Taymor and the legit helmers’ union, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, in response to a separate suit filed last year over directing royalties. SDC exec director Laura Penn said she did not yet have any knowledge of the suit.

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