About 10 years ago, when I ran a tiny item on a proposed Spider-Man musical with music by U2 on the old Comicon-com site, I had an idea it would be quite a story, but I had no idea it would be just about the craziest story in the history of Broadway. Now Glen Berger—who co-wrote the book with original director Julie Taymor before going behind her back to rewrite it as backers planned to ditch her from the production—has witten a tell-all about the making of the musical, which is still struggling to make money, even though it has had the most profitable houses in Broadway history. The show is just so expensive to mount that it has to take in more than $1 million a week to break even.

ICv2 has some thoughts on the show and the book and Berger, focusing on how Marvel disliked Taymor’s vision from the git-go:

Looming behind the changes to show is the powerful presence of Marvel Entertainment.  According to Berger, Marvel hated the original treatment that he and Taymor had come up with, calling it “entirely wrong,” and “quite dark.”  The Marvel honchos especially hated one of Taymor’s pet creations the spider villainess Arachne.

It’s hard not to see the hand of Marvel behind the changes that Berger and Aguirre-Sacasa made to the play’s book.  The rewrite addressed the concerns that Marvel had right from the beginning.  The role of Arachne was greatly reduced, while those of the key players in the standard Spidey origin saga, Aunt May and Uncle Ben were increased, and the role Spidey’s love interest Mary Jane also got a major boost.  The rewrite may have rid the book of the mythic archetypes and New Age fantasy elements of the original version, but it did so by substituting the standard Spider-Man origin elements that led Bono, who comes off as quite feckless in Berger’s account of the show’s traumatic period, to characterize the rewrite as sounding “like it’s out of The Waltons.”

I actually saw the original version—a few boxes away from Bono who had come to check it out, and sank down in his seat more and more as the evening progressed, as he wondered, ‘What the fuck have I done?”—and Taymor’s reinvention of the Spider-Man myth as being about a creative woman-spider who really likes shoes, was, while daring and audacious, so totally not Spider-Man. In Taymor’s version, Peter Parker wasn’t even responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. I think the whole point of the show was that a musical called Arachne might have had a hard time selling out, so calling it Spider-Man was a sneaky way to make Arachne. Marvel really had to do what they did, as nasty as litigious as it may have proven.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading this book some day! It is a hell of a story, no question.


  1. I’ve only seen the “new” version and that version sucked HARD. The acrobatics and costumes were really cool. The music and story were awful. It was a very bad stage version of the Spider-man movie. From everything I’ve read, the original version sounds so much better.

  2. To those who did not see the original Spider-Man, you do not understand how misguided the second act was. Yes it was more complex than the simplistic acrobatics show now on display. But It Did Not Work. The second act was literally all about Arachne trying to find her muse and not about Spider-Man at all. The songs have always been meh.

  3. I think the whole point of the show was that a musical called Arachne might have had a hard time selling out, so calling it Spider-Man was a sneaky way to make Arachne. Marvel really had to do what they did, as nasty as litigious as it may have proven.

    On the other hand, doesn’t moral ambiguity offer some possibilities?

    That production, which featured a script by Ms. Taymor and Glen Berger, placed its young superhero in a broader meta-context of Greek mythology and American Pop art, with a “geek chorus” of commentators and a classical goddess named Arachne as the morally ambiguous mentor of Spidey and his awkward alter ego, Peter Parker. [. . .]

    But they do seem out of proportion to what has become a straightforward children’s entertainment with a mildly suspenseful story, two-dimensional characters, unapologetically bad jokes and the kind of melodious rock tunes that those under 12 might be familiar with from listening to their parents’ salad-day favorites of the 1980s and ’90s.

    Having a superhero sin occasionally would be refreshing, if only because hardly anyone is capable of being a saint 100 percent of the time. It’s easy to believe that sinning through inaction isn’t the same as actively sinning. If a reader knows that a hero can sin, he can wonder if that hero can commit worse sins–if the writer has the freedom to let him do it.

    Everybody sins, everybody makes mistakes; heroes act when heroism is needed.


  4. @The Beat

    OK. I guess I just feel the “new” Spider-man show was so boring, *anything* had to be better. But no Spider-man at all does sound pretty bad. Even though Spider-man was boring and terrible, the acrobatic show was pretty cool. That part was a lot of fun.

  5. Speaking of Broadway shows….

    Matilda – currently playing – is the best show I’ve ever seen. The acting and set design blow everything else on stage out of the water.

    Kinky Boots is the second best show currently in production. The music is phenomenal and the acting is top notch. I think it won more Tonys than Matilda because it’s a little more showboaty, though.

    This concludes the current bit of culture talk here on the Beat. ^_^

  6. I saw the Taymor version shortly before she was canned. As both someone who works in theater, and a comics fan, I thought it failed as a theater piece AND a superhero adaptation on multiple, multiple levels. I could go on and on about its many, many failings, but there was one scene that I thought summed it up pretty aptly.

    For those who aren’t familiar with it, the meta story of the musical is that these three teenage boys are concocting their version of the ultimate Spider-Man story, and for some reason one of the boys’ younger sister is tagging along. They are the “geek chorus” (grrrooaann). But the girl is not a comics geek; she’s a Greek mythology geek (that’s where Arachne comes in, as well as the ‘Swiss Miss’ character who you may have seen). She’s not interested in Spider-Man at all, and keeps insisting they should be telling an Arachne story. She’s obviously a surrogate for Julie Taymor.

    At one point, the story comes to a halt as the kids debate at length what makes Spider-Man cool. The scene ends with them to come up with an answer to that question. The boys at least offer some ideas; the pseudo-Taymor has nothing. It shows in so many ways throughout the script; as Heidi noted, Taymor even messes up Uncle Ben’s death (which happens off-stage!). When someone spends $75 million on a property that they neither understand nor even like, that’s A PROBLEM.

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