Wide-awake at 2 a.m., Bono is riding in an SUV to a Las Vegas hotel — but he doesn't need a casino to make a huge, risky bet. After the $65 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was hammered by catastrophically bad reviews in February ("It may also rank among the worst" musicals of all time, The New York Times wrote), he and the Edge could have cut their losses and backed away. Instead, the duo behind the show's music have done the opposite, associating themselves more closely than ever with the project, even as director Julie Taymor stepped down from day-to-day control. "It's really dangerous," says Bono. "It is doubling down, but I really believe in these tunes; I really believe in the creative team."
Bono and the Edge pushed for a revamp of the show, radically shifting its second act to try to make the plot more coherent. They cut songs and wrote the gleefully campy dance-pop tune "A Freak Like Me Needs Company," sung by crowd favorite Patrick Page as the villain Green Goblin. The song sounds like the Grinch singing Lady Gaga, with an Abba-esque chorus, and it's now an undeniable high point. "It's a shame we didn't have it earlier," says the Edge, "but we wouldn't have known what to write until we actually saw the thing set up."
They also moved ahead with an album — Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, out June 14th — plus an American Idol performance with the show's lead, Reeve Carney. The album mixes recordings by the show's stars with demos and newly recorded Bono and Edge tracks, all produced by longtime U2 associate Steve Lillywhite. "We feel that our music didn't really get a fair shake in the early reviews," says the Edge, "along with the costume and set designs, which are fantastic. So many things that were great got trashed with the story and other things that probably did deserve to be criticized. So we thought, 'Let's just get the songs out there — if people got a chance to hear it, they won't be swayed by these negative reviews.'"
The media — and late-night comedians — were quick to mock Turn Off the Dark, which was also plagued by multiple cast injuries from its high-flying stunts. "The Edge is probably not used to so much custard pie," says Bono. "I am, and I quite enjoy it in some sick way. If we weren't in a corner, we'd paint ourselves into one. That seems to be who we are. I love the chaos — you have to put order on it."
The duo have found plenty to enjoy in the process, and, Bono jokes, they've learned some new things about themselves: "Being in a band with Edge for all these years, to discover he's gay now is just wonderful. He's so into these dance routines. Who knew?"
With the show's endlessly delayed opening now set for June 14th, there are signs that the rescue mission could work. The audience greeted one recent Friday-night performance with a standing ovation. "Every show has had that in the new version," says Carney, "which makes us feel so good."