In 2005, playwright Glen Berger was hired by director Julie Taymor to co-write the script for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. What followed were six crazed, tumultuous, accident-ridden years before the show, with music by Bono and the Edge, finally premiered on Broadway.
In Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, Berger cuts through the tangled web of the troubled show’s history and personalities. “I didn’t want to relive it, but at the end of the day, it was a story and I’m a writer,” he says. “It’s about good and incredibly talented people earnestly trying to create something. I didn’t want to write a tell-all, but I couldn’t pass it up.” The book was released earlier this month on Simon & Schuster and with today’s news that the show is packing it up for Vegas, here’s five of the best takeaways that the book revealed about the troubled Broadway show.
1. Ex-Director Julie Taymor would make a great lead character for a musical about a diva. She sends despairing emails to Berger (“they want all that groundbreaking or envelope-pushing stuff . . . and then at the 11th hour, they get nervous”), has a meltdown and disappears from the theater during rehearsals, and confesses to Berger one day, “Maybe the whole idea of doing a Spider-Man musical is just ridiculous.” Recalls Berger, “I knew when she said it that that feeling would pass, but for the moment it certainly did give me a feeling of bewilderment.”
2. Bono and the Edge Channeled Tom Waits and the Pixies.
Berger writes that “Deeply Furious” had sampled strings and a “Pixies-inspired punk-surf guitar.” “A Freak Like Me Needs Company” had Bono singing in “a Tom Waits growl,” and the original “Love Me or Kill Me” took its cue from Gary Numan’s “Cars.” “You hear the mysterious tone we were never able to duplicate again,” says Berger. “The original demos were incredibly original and tuneful. Bono and the Edge were inspired by not having the burden of a U2 album.”
3. Seconds Mattered in the High-Stakes World of Staging Spider-Man.
When a stage hand took a few seconds longer than usual to find his flashlight, he missed attaching a safety cable – sending one of the flying Spideys crashing to the floor and giving him a fractured skull, punctured lung and broken ribs. “Things can change on a dime, including things you take for granted,” says Berger. “And of course something like that could happen.”
4. Musicians were interested in a Spider-Man musical.
Lou Reed and Oprah Winfrey attended early performances, and during one recording session, on St. Patrick’s Day, Elvis Costello wandered in “wearing a pair of little red glittery devil horns.” As Berger recalls, “At a certain point, you stopped being surprised. You’d look behind you and say, ‘Oh, that’s Russell Brand.’ It seemed like everybody came.”
5. Bono does a killer impersonation of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons.
During one meeting, Bono turns to Berger and says, “How long have you been with us, Smithers?” “Bono and the Edge were child-like in the best sense of the word,” says Berger. “They had an enthusiasm for creating stuff, despite the unimaginable stress.”