Monday, June 20, 2011


Despite my ongoing obsession with the astonishingly misconceived musical Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark, I didn't bother writing anything about the official opening of the show last week.  Since the ousting of its formerly "visionary" director/co-writer/co-designer Julie Taymor, the show, according to most critics, turned out exactly as anyone could have predicted: Instead of Taymor's batshit insane down-in-flames grab for glory, the show instead became dully respectable, a competent salvage job of something that shouldn't have been salvaged.

So okay, we saw that coming, nothing more to say...except Taymor, who should have shut up and moved on a long time ago, felt moved this weekend to talk about what became of her baby. 

Speaking to a conference of theatrical types, she proclaimed her disgust with her Spider-man producers, who, in a desperation move as Taymor's show missed numerous opening dates, used focus groups to try to salvage something from the show.  "It's very scary if people are going to move towards that, to have audiences tell you how to make a show.  Shakespeare would have been appalled.  Forget about it.It would be impossible to have these works come out because there's always something that people don't like."

Sure, Julie.  Except Shakespeare cannily tailored his plays to the audience of the time, mixing his deeper themes with low comedy specifically designed to appeal to the groundlings.  Also, he could write--once the script was set, it was rehearsed and performed.  There was no "process" to "discover" the show, no endless reworkings of crazy theatrical concepts at the expense of coherent storytelling.

Besides, Taymor's producers only turned to the focus groups after she was fired from the show.  She was given months and months and months and months to "find" her show, and she never did.  She wasted seventy million dollars of investors' money on her ridiculous notions--Spider-man as a supporting character in a show about the power of myth, or some fucking thing--and she would have been perfectly happy to keep spending, with no regard for what her producers needed (that is, a profitable show) or an audience might have wanted (some kind of entertainment).

Of course, those pesky audiences were part of the problem, according to Taymor: "Twitter and Facebook and blogging just trump you.  It's very hard to create.  It's incredibly difficult to be under a shot glass and microscope like that."

Well, granted, it would be hard to be under both a shot glass and a microscope, but inexplicable metaphors are nothing new for Taymor.  But again, much of the online chatter about the show's astounding non-quality came once previews started.  Once you're asking audiences to pay for tickets--at full prices, mind you; there were no discounts during the preview period--they're going to respond.  That's how the process works.  And if the audience is overwhelmingly telling you that your show has problems, you fix them.  If you can't do that, your producers have every right to fire your ass.

Sure, I'm usually all about the artist here, but Taymor was working on a Broadway musical, where the rules have always been in place.  And the first rule has always been: It's all about the show.  Directors, songwriters, authors, even big-money stars have all been replaced when shows are in trouble.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but Taymor acts as though it's all brand new. 

The biggest mistake the producers of Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark made was not dumping Taymor much earlier in the process.  Like, for instance, when she submitted an incoherent script that had very little to do with the title character.  Or after the first, say, ten million bucks were spent with nothing to show for it.  After sixty million more was spent, firing Taymor was a mercy killing.

Now if they'd just close the show altogether, we could all pretend this never happened, and I'd finally shut up about it.