Star-crossed production free from legal battles, preps for touring editions as a new book recounts musical’s early struggles
Hundreds of hopefuls lined up at the Hollywood United Methodist Church on Aug. 12, eager for the chance to prove that they were destined for great power and great responsibility — and have no fear of heights.
It was all part of a bicoastal open-call audition process looking to discover the next high-flying lead of Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” — a head-turning move that comes just as the show, famously troubled until it turned into a big Broadway seller, finds itself at a notable point in its lifespan.
Freed at last from the show’s long-running legal dramas, producers can finally get moving on potential incarnations across the country and around the globe. But just as they begin to look ahead, the specter of the show’s past has reared its head: Last week a performer suffered the first high-profile injury since the musical opened in June 2011, and later this fall comes a look back at “Turn Off the Dark’s” early troubles, in the form of an I-was-there book by original scribe Glen Berger, due to hit shelves in November.
The long and highly publicized list of roadblocks suffered by “Spider-Man” on its road to Broadway hardly needs recounting: the protracted, injury-prone preview period that turned into a media frenzy; the ugly creative split that saw original director-conceiver Julie Taymor pushed out for Philip William McKinley, and Berger’s work supplemented by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; the extended legal battle that stretched well beyond settlement deadlines. But with all that done, “Spider-Man” is finally in a position to make money.
Producers are moving ahead with plans for incarnations of the show to pop up in Las Vegas; in Hamburg, Germany; and in an arena tour. According to McKinley, part of the concept is to integrate key staging differences in each of those potential incarnations, giving fans reason to see ’em all.
Those additional companies are part of the reason McKinley hopes to find as many new leads as he can at the open calls, including the one in L.A., where more than 250 performers showed up, and another in Gotham Aug. 19.
Besides, the Broadway “Spider-Man” will need a new Spidey soon: Reeve Carney, the star of the show since its first preview in 2010, departs Sept. 15.
“A lot of people think this is a publicity stunt, but it’s not,” McKinley says. “It’s real.”
Meanwhile, now that the musical’s on the far side of its tortured creative process, Berger’s book, “Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History,” offers a perspective on the show’s birth pangs that only a few insiders would have.
Berger, who co-wrote the original “Spider-Man” script with Taymor, was there from the beginning, and extraordinary access was in part what pushed him to overcome his reluctance to write a tell-all, instead hoping to recount a story of good people struggling, and sometimes failing, to achieve their sparkling ideals. With no galleys of the Simon and Schuster book yet available, it remains to be seen whether “Song of Spider-Man” will stir any acrimony among the other creatives, but Berger does note that Bono and the Edge, who wrote the show’s music and lyrics, have read the book, along with many other members of the “Spider-Man” production crew.
Surely, too, there must be something cathartic about revisiting all that drama from a more removed perspective. “That was the theory going into it,” Berger cracks. “It was either spend money on therapy or write this book.”