Playwright recounts Broadway’s disastrous ‘Spider-Man’

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History. Glen Berger. Simon & Schuster. 384 pages. $25.
Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History. Glen Berger. Simon & Schuster. 384 pages. $25.

In his 2011 review of the infamously troubled Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, then in previews, theater critic Scott Brown wrote that instead of ever opening officially, the show “should be built and rebuilt and overbuilt forever, a living monument to itself.” This assessment was hardly hyperbolic — the show had already endured numerous embarrassing delays, and footage of one of the actors taking a harrowing fall off of a set piece had gone viral. The project seemed cursed.

In his hilarious and engrossing new memoir, Glen Berger, who co-wrote the musical with Broadway legend-in-her-time and MacArthur-award winner Julie Taymor, recounts his entire dysfunctional relationship with the show, from its enthusiastic conception alongside U2’s Bono and The Edge, to its over-publicized birthing pains and through the structural overhaul that was required to save its life. At the helm of the sinking ship is Taymor, who pursues her singular artistic vision with Ahab-like intensity and who is described here with the mix of love, awe, vexation and frustration reserved for those creators that we describe as “uncompromising” (an adjective that Berger hastens to emphasize).

Berger’s involvement with the project mirrors the origin story of any decent superhero: an ordinary man plucked by fate (in this case wielded by the hand of Taymor) and invested with extraordinary power (the highest-budgeted Broadway production of all time). But as a young man once said before swinging down Fifth Avenue on a web of silk, with great power comes great responsibility, and soon Berger is beset on all sides by impossible odds and pitfalls (in this case, someone literally falling into a pit). The show, which he writes was not a show but rather a “machine built to teach humility,” chews through staff, makes a mockery of anything resembling a deadline and mulches budget at a farcical rate. And the story of this musical is a farce indeed. Or perhaps it’s a tragedy, played here as comedy after the addition of that crucial element of time.

The metaphors are almost too easy, which Berger knows, even if he was blind to the obvious ironies when he was suffering them: If he was Spider-Man, then Taymor was Arachne, the mythological weaver revived as the show’s original plane-shifting villain, whose artistic skill was greater even then Athena’s, for which she was transmogrified into a spider by the jealous god. The show, then, was a punishment for their hubris, the great transgression of supervillains and mythological victims alike.

Despite the fact that the project he is most associated with never received better than mixed reviews, one imagines that Berger surely considers himself first and foremost a dramatist. How inconvenient for his self-conception that he’s written one of the best literary works of this year.

Nicholas Mancus is a writer in New York.

Read more Books stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">STONE MATTRESS: </span>Nine Tales. Margaret Atwood. Nan A. Talese. Doubleday. 288 pages. $25.95.


    Past looms large in new stories from Margaret Atwood

    In Margaret Atwood’s new collection, the past looms large for aging protagonists, but sympathy and regret abound, too.

  • What are you reading now?

    “I just finished Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran, which I love, love, loved. It’s a mystery set in New Orleans shortly after the storm and solved by girl detective, Claire DeWitt, who applies her special method of detection which is pretty much based on yoga and Buddhism combined with the altered mind states of drugs, drink, dreams and growing up in Brooklyn.”

 <span class="cutline_leadin">WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS:</span> The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big Business C — and the End of Privacy as We Know It. Adam Tanner. PublicAffairs. 316 pages. $27.99.


    ‘What Stays in Vegas’ examines data packaging and the end of privacy

    Journalist explains how data packaging makes American companies the biggest threat to privacy.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category