Thu, Sep 12, 2013 - Page 11 News List

Book review: Song of Spider-Man

Glen Berger peppers his memoir with gossip and anecdote about the most expensive and criticized Broadway musical ever, though there are few revelations

By Patrick Healy  /  NY Times News Service

Song of Spider-Man, by Glen Berger

The most expensive, debated and derided musical ever on Broadway — the US$75 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — now has a dishy insider memoir. It chronicles the ugly slide of the once-close creators, the director Julie Taymor and the composers Bono and the Edge, of U2, into a morass of betrayals, lawsuits, and petty slaps, like a producer’s yanking Taymor’s tickets for the show’s opening night.

While the book, Song of Spider-Man, does not have significant revelations, given the extensive media coverage of the show’s singularly troubled trajectory before its June 2011 opening, the backstage bickering, cast injuries and Taymor’s ultimate firing are rendered in close-ups by an observer especially near the action: Glen Berger, who was chosen by Taymor to collaborate on the script for the musical.

In Berger’s version of events, Bono is by turns absent and anxious, conspiring against Taymor in e-mail and late-night meetings, but then lamenting that a script rewrite after her dismissal “sounds like it’s out of The Waltons.” Meanwhile, Taymor becomes increasingly wounded and angered by her colleagues and producers, lashing out with comments like “You don’t have a soul” to Berger.

His tortured pas de deux with Taymor dominates the book. “Even now, I still carry the dream with me every day — to make up with her,” Berger writes in the first chapter. “I loved her. I still do. With heart-scarred bewilderment, I love her. And the thing of it is ... she despises me.”

A spokesman for Taymor said Thursday that she had not read the book and had no comment on it. A copy of the galleys was obtained in advance of the book’s Nov. 5 release by Simon & Schuster.

Berger, a struggling playwright when Taymor hired him in 2005, presents himself as emotionally and artistically torn through the winter of 2011, when Bono, the Edge and the show’s producers encouraged him to write a “Plan X” — without Taymor’s knowledge — to turn the show into a sunnier, family-friendly entertainment. He writes that when Taymor, the Tony Award-winning director of The Lion King, became suspicious and confronted Berger by asking, “Is there something you’re not telling me?,” he tried to smile and squeak out a “no.”

But his duplicity eats away at him, and leads to a deep rupture when Taymor learns of Plan X and dismisses it as “a cut-and-paste mess.”

A tell-all that is rare for Broadway, Song of Spider-Man does reveal that Berger and Taymor both worried that the musical’s story was “ridiculous” as they worked on it, and that Berger initially thought that Bono and the Edge “were wrong for this project.” And the book maintains that Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and Tom Stoppard (The Coast of Utopia) were initially considered as possible scriptwriters.

Most theater critics eviscerated the show’s script and its songs during a first round of reviews in February 2011 and again in June of that year, after parts of Berger’s Plan X were incorporated and Taymor had been fired.

Even graver concerns were voiced over the years by executives of Marvel Entertainment, who feared that Taymor’s vision would damage their lucrative superhero brand. An initial 20-page script treatment was rejected by Marvel as “entirely wrong” and “quite dark,” with executives urging that one of Taymor’s favorite characters, the spider villainess Arachne, be cut from the show.

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