- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The scene would have been hard to imagine three months ago, when Julie Taymor was pushed aside as director of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” an unprecedentedly expensive production whose well-publicized troubles had already made it the butt of late-night jokes.

But there was Ms. Taymor returning Tuesday for the long-postponed opening night. She got a huge ovation and chants of “Julie, Julie” as she was welcomed onstage to kisses and hugs from Bono and the Edge - collaborators who had brought her into the project years ago, but later played a role in her ouster from the $70 million production.

“I just want to thank everybody, especially the cast and crew, the musicians and this creative team that I got to work with for a long time,” the Tony Award-winning director said to a crowd sprinkled liberally with celebrities, including Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea, Jay-Z, John McEnroe, Spike Lee, Vanessa Redgrave, Steve Martin and Matt Damon.

Earlier, just before showtime, Ms. Taymor had told the Associated Press: “I’m delighted to be here. I’m excited. It’s opening night!”

Of course, there was no word on how she felt about the extensively retooled version that had taken shape following her ouster. The revamp dispensed with much of her vision but retained some of her most striking concepts.

But there was unity and affection on the stage of the Foxwoods Theatre, where the show had played a record-setting 183 previews before finally opening Tuesday night. Bono even told Ms. Taymor she was looking “hot.” Then he thanked the audience for its patience.

“We had to save Spider-Man,” said the U2 singer, “because Spider-Man has to save New York.”

At least one of the celebrities on hand - the most famous one, actually - seemed to have loved the show. “What an amazing and historic night on Broadway,” Mr. Clinton said in a statement Wednesday. “New York has never seen anything like ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.’ And I am very proud of them for not giving up, it was fabulous.”

Afterward, at the stage door, cast members were ebullient and relieved.

“The biggest lesson I learned from this whole process is, never to give up,” said Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker, alter ego of Spider-Man. “There were many opportunities along the way for many of us to quit, but none of us did.”

And as for Ms. Taymor’s return? “It was so great - it was like having your parents reunite,” said Mr. Carney. He said he hadn’t been able yet to ask Ms. Taymor what she thought of the revised show, as she did not appear with the cast at the stage door.

Though the script was much simplified in the new version - Ms. Taymor had co-written the original book with Glen Berger - a number of her signature touches were clearly in evidence. The mythical character she had introduced to the story, Arachne, was one of the first to appear, and a visual effect that has swaths of saffron silk being woven under her got applause all on its own.

T.V. Carpio, who plays Arachne, said Ms. Taymor’s return “was so emotional - I was trying not to cry.” And Jennifer Damiano, who plays Mary Jane Watson, said it was “really special” to have the original director back.

The actors expressed delight that they’d finally reached a point where they simply had a show to perform eight times a week, instead of endless rehearsals and constant changes. “I’m really looking forward to just performing the show every night,” said Miss Damiano.

Added Patrick Page, who plays Norman Osborn and the villain he turns into, Green Goblin: “We invited everyone this time, so it’s, ‘Come to our party. Here’s our work!”

Earlier in the night, Ms. Taymor, Bono and the Edge were all smiles as they posed for photos on the red carpet. But the talk was about how difficult the process had been.

“We were trying to do something that’s never been done. And that’s very hard to do. And we were right in front of everybody,” Ms. Taymor said on the red carpet. “That’s difficult.”

Asked what he’d learned about putting on a Broadway show, lead producer Michael Cohl smiled. “It’s much more difficult than I ever expected,” he said.

Bono, too, said he felt humbled following in the footsteps of such iconic songwriters as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart and Irving Berlin. “We found out it’s harder than you think,” he said about writing a musical.

The show’s planned opening was initially set for Feb. 18, 2010, but financial issues forced producers to suspend work. A new opening was promised for Dec. 21, but that was pushed back to Jan. 11, then again to Feb. 7, and then to March 15. “Spider-Man” has broken the record for the longest preview period in Broadway history.

Injuries to several cast members - including a 35-foot fall by a stunt actor playing the web-slinger that left him with a skull fracture and cracked vertebrae - marred the production, as well as the defection of a lead actress after she suffered a concussion.

Many theater critics grew impatient and panned the show in reviews that appeared in early February - a violation of the established agreement by critics to wait for opening night.

Producers finally intervened in March, firing Ms. Taymor and shutting down the show for four weeks to retool. Ms. Taymor was replaced by Philip William McKinley, who directed the Hugh Jackman musical “The Boy From Oz” in 2003.

Co-book writer Mr. Berger and newly hired playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has written comic books and for the HBO series “Big Love,” toned down the story’s darker themes, and expanded the romantic angle between Peter Parker and Mary Jane.

Consistently strong weekly revenues are critical for the show to break even and to begin repaying investors. Last week the show earned $1.2 million - a little more than 60 percent of its $1.9 million potential.

c Drama Writer Mark Kennedy contributed to this report.



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