Entertainment » Theatre

Spider-Man’s latest victim :: Julie Taymor

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday Mar 9, 2011
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The producers of Spider-Man have turned off the director.

The New York Daily News is reporting this morning that Julie Taymor is out.

Whether Taymor quit or was fired is unclear.

Also there’s question as to whether Reeve Carney, the actor she cast as the show’s title character, will stay with the production.

The report also says that the show will be shut down to undergo a major overhaul with a new creative team at its helm. A source told the Daily News that the expensive, problem-plagued musical will shut down for two or three weeks to retool and conduct additional rehearsals.

"I will say about these producers, they will do whatever it takes. They want a great show," a member of the production staff told a Daily News reporter Tuesday night. "When others would have given up, they will not."

The opening night -- the fifth date for it -- was scheduled for next Tuesday (March 15) will be postponed for three months.

Wednesday marked the 100th preview performance for the $65 million musical, which has been a top-grosser during its entire preview period, partly out of curiosity by audiences who want to see just what the notoriety is all about.


A complicated departure

The New York Times corroborated the Daily News story in the early afternoon.

"A lead producer of ’Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ has told at least two investors and one other person involved with the Broadway musical that its director, Julie Taymor, will step aside once negotiations about complex contractual matters like her creative legal rights and her considerable financial stake in any profits are concluded, according to the investors and a person in a senior position within the show’s management," read the lead in the Times story by Patrick Healy.

"On a personal level both sides want to find a way for Ms. Taymor - who has worked on the show for nine years - to leave while also saving face. On a business level lawyers for Ms. Taymor and for the producers are negotiating "over who owns what material, and how the royalties and future development of the show in productions around the world will be worked out," said the person in the senior management position on ’Spider-Man.’

"The producers also want to avoid a situation where they have to fire Ms. Taymor outright, given her legal and contractual rights and her many admirers. They would rather part ways in some sort of public agreement that would still credit Ms. Taymor’s contributions to the show."

The Times also said that those close to Taymor say that she is proud of the current production despite the savage reviews it received when critics reviewed a preview performance last month. The Times’ Ben Brantley wrote that the show "is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst."

One name that has been bandied about as being part of the incoming creative team is playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who was said to have made suggestions to the producers as to changes to the current production. The openly-gay Aguirre-Sacasa has been writing for Marvel Comics since 2004. His recent adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray played the Round House Theatre outside of Washington DC. He also recently worked on a revamped version of another superhero musical, the 1966 Broadway failure It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman!, which played the Dallas Theatre Center this past summer.


Not so-’Wicked’-good

In a related story, Jeremy Gerard reported on the website Bloomberg.com that the show’s financial situation isn’t as rosy as was being reported.

"In fact, it’s not doing great business. It has no chance of recouping its $65 million cost on Broadway, let alone earning a profit. The numbers don’t lie."

The show, being produced by Michael Cohl and his partners, who include Sony Pictures Entertainment, is reporting weekly grosses of approximately $1.4 million, which is 75% capacity.

To be as successful as Wicked or The Lion King, Spider-Man needs to sell-out the 1,930 Foxwoods Theatre (Broadway’s biggest.)

And even if things were "Wicked"-good, the show faced an uphill battle to break-even.

"Another person, familiar with the financial side of ’Spider-Man,’ says $1.1 million to $1.2 million is an accurate estimate of the show’s weekly running costs," Gerard reported.

Spider-Man, Gerard says, hasn’t come close. The average price paid for a ticket is $104.63 and a visit to Ticketmaster.com will find numerous seats available for upcoming performances.

The bottom line is while the show has had enormous visibility -- mostly bad, but visibility nonetheless, it hasn’t translated into a sell-out show.

And while the weekly grosses appear high, they are a bit deceiving. Two years ago the Broadway League changed its way it reported grosses to inflate them somewhat. Certain fixed costs and deducted credit card fees were no longer subtracted from the weekly gross, which makes the figure higher.

"The true amount available to the producers is nearly 10 percent less than the published figure. In the case of "Spider- Man," the real weekly gross is closer to $1.26 million," Gerard wrote.

"So with $1.1 million in running costs, the producers net $160,000 per week. Forty percent of that goes to the creative team and others in the show’s profit pool. That leaves about $100,000 for divvying up among the investors.

"At that rate, "Spider-Man" will have to run for 650 weeks -- 12-plus years -- before turning a profit. Even if the producers’ net doubled, they still face six years to recoupment. (Not real recoupment, of course, since that would have to account for the profit that money would have made had it been invested elsewhere.)

"Cohl, through spokesman Miramontez, declined to comment on these figures."
The plan to close and retool the show will likely mean the show will not open in time to be considered for Tony Awards this season, though it will likely be ready for the lucrative summer tourist seasons.

That is, if it reopens at all after its proposed shutdown.


Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.

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