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'Spider-Man' to open in early summer

It's official: Spider-Man's landing on Broadway has been delayed. Again.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Producers of Broadway's "Spider-Man" musical postponed the show's official opening for a stunning sixth time, announcing Wednesday that it will not officially open until this summer and that Julie Taymor will no longer helm the production.

Taymor, who directed and co-wrote the book for "Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark," will remain a part of a new creative team, the producers said.

The delay revealed a production so trouble-plagued that it has taken itself out of the running for Tony Award consideration this year, but it will be eligible for the 2012 season.

"The team will be implementing a new plan to make significant and exciting revisions to the production," lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris said in a statement. "This amended schedule will allow the time necessary to execute the plan, which will include revisions to the script."

The show's representative, Rick Miramontez, said no performances will be canceled during the overhaul.

Philip William McKinley and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have joined the $65 million production to assist with new staging and rewrites for the show, which was to have opened on March 15. Musical consultants Paul Bogaev and sound designer Peter Hylenski are also on the new team.

Bogaev, who won a Tony nomination in 2004 for his work on "Bombay Dreams," has a history of working with rock musicians who craft musicals, including "Tarzan" with Phil Collins and "Aida" with Elton John. Hylenski worked on "Elf," "Shrek" and "Scottsboro Boys," among other shows.

"Julie Taymor is not leaving the creative team. Her vision has been at the heart of this production since its inception and will continue to be so," the producers said. "Julie's previous commitments mean that past March 15, she cannot work the 24/7 necessary to make the changes in the production in order to be ready for our opening."

Taymor's directing duties will be handled by McKinley, who directed "The Boy From Oz" (2003) and "The Night of the Hunter" (2006). Aguirre-Sacasa worked on HBO's "Big Love" and has written for Marvel comics, and wrote the play "The Picture of Dorian Gray," based on the Oscar Wilde novel.

The stunt-heavy show was co-written by Taymor, director of the hugely successful "Lion King," and Glen Berger, and has music by U2's Bono and The Edge.

"This is an epic ride, and the standing ovations we have seen from the preview audiences have confirmed our absolute faith in the project," Bono and The Edge said in a statement. "We are listening and learning and, as a result, we have a couple of new songs we are very very excited about putting into the mix."

The highly unusual move to again delay the show came as "Spider-Man" continues to defy the reviews and post impressive numbers at the box office. It was the second highest-grossing show on Broadway this week, after "Wicked," pulling in close to $1.3 million — though it was slightly down from the week before.

Indeed, the scene at the Foxwoods Theatre Wednesday was in marked contrast to the turmoil in the headlines. The line to get into the matinee snaked well down a huge city block, and was filled with tourists, an entire class of schoolchildren and others clearly excited to see the much talked-about flying scenes — including an aerial battle between Spider-Man and his nemesis, the Green Goblin. (At the evening performance, Green Goblin's steering mechanism froze and the stunt was canceled.)

"We came all the way from Utah to see this — got in on the redeye this morning," said Scott Clayson, a father of four from Brigham City. His wife and two daughters, ages 18 and 20, were with him. "A big part of the appeal is all the tricks they do," Clayson said. "We're really looking forward to it."

After the show, daughter McKell, 20, was ebullient. "I loved it!" she reported. "It was so different from anything I have ever seen. Really impressive."

Given the brisk sales, among the many questions swirling around the production Wednesday was this: If a show is bringing in so much money, why would producers want to shut it down, even for a few weeks, and lose millions?

Such a decision, theater insiders said, was extraordinarily complex. Producers would have to compare the weekly grosses with the running costs — which are surely enormous. And they'd need to consider how long the show can continue to earn what it's making now — not every show is selling out, and the numbers were slightly down this week.

They'd also need to consider whether the show, without changes, has the necessary longevity to eventually break even and then start making money.

Another reason to shut down briefly: Union rules mean there is very little rehearsal time available during a performance week, only four hours on single-performance days — and that includes setup time. With so little time, how can a show be significantly revamped?

Taymor has kept a relatively low profile as she tinkered with the show, though she referred to her troubles during a recent talk at TED, an annual tech conference held this year in Long Beach, Calif.

"I'm in 'The Crucible' right now," she said, referring to the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials. "It's trial by fire."

On Wednesday, a friend and longtime associate said the lack of time to hone the show had been one of Taymor's great frustrations.

"She's been distraught that there's so little time to rehearse," said Jeffrey Horowitz, artistic director of the Theatre for a New Audience.

Also distressing to Taymor, the director and creative mind behind the enormously successful "Lion King" — still No. 3 at the box office — has been the tenor of much of the news coverage and online chatter. "It's hard — I try not to look," she told The AP in a brief conversation in November.

"She's distraught at how she's been labeled," said Horowitz, who attended "Spider-Man" three weeks ago at Taymor's invitation, and loved it. "They've said she's an artist only concerned with spectacle. I can tell you that all her visual ideas come from a deeply human idea of the story she is working on. And they say she's a 'perfectionist' — well, what's wrong with being a perfectionist?"

"You don't hire people like Julie Taymor unless you want people who push boundaries," he added. "This show is a piece of art, and it has been described as a spectacle gone out of control. That is dangerous — for her, and for other artists who take risks."

As of Wednesday night's performance, "Spider-Man" has had 101 previews. For comparison, among musicals currently on Broadway, "Wicked" had 25 previews, "American Idiot" had 26 and "The Lion King" had 33. Most critics got fed up last month and reviewed it, largely panning it.

There is no official penalty for keeping a show in previews except embarrassment, something with which this show is familiar: It easily beat the 71-show mark for a musical having the most previews, which was held by Arthur Laurents' "Nick & Nora" in 1991. That may not bode well for the comic book hero — "Nick and Nora" collapsed a week after its official opening.

"Spider-Man" is unusual in that it has been built specifically for the 1,928-seat Foxwoods, meaning a traditional tryout outside New York to fix glitches and smooth out problems wasn't possible.

Unlike "Wicked," tickets to "Spider-Man" are now available at the discount TKTS booth — a possible reason that total grosses slipped last week.

Last week, the show's production company was issued three violations of workplace safety standards by federal regulators for four separate incidents late last year that resulted in injuries to the cast.