As one of the most ambitious, extravagant and dynamic shows ever to hit Broadway, the $75 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark musical might have been expected to spin nothing but good fortune for songwriter Bono.
By Jacqui Goddard in Miami, The Telegraph
But the latest chapter in a legal dispute over the production’s troubled genesis has heaped fresh embarrassment on the U2 rocker, one year after he and the show’s producers fired Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor in a disagreement over her creative vision.
Court documents filed by Ms Taymor, 59, in US District Court in New York have unleashed a new wave of venom in the unseemly row over her sacking, alleging that Bono and fellow U2 band member The Edge – who jointly wrote the musical’s score – “severely hampered” the show’s progress at a time when its future was on the line.
Drawing in part on private emails written by the show’s principals, Ms Taymor’s court filing alleges that the pair were largely absent from the show’s crucial developmental stages, delivered unsuitable music and lyrics, conspired with the producers to oust her and were “frequently distracted” from their duties – on one occasion in Bono’s case, by alcohol and supermodels including Christy Turlington.
An email composed by Ms Taymor’s writing partner, Glen Berger, and disclosed in court documents, reveals how on Jan 13 last year, with Spider-Man undergoing urgent rewrites just weeks before opening day, a meeting aimed at addressing the problems had to be put off because Bono arrived drunk.
“He showed up in our room with Christy Turlington and a couple other supermodels and he had already had a few beers, rendering him useless,” Mr Berger stated in his email. “So the producers postponed the meeting till the next afternoon – but that meeting never happened.”
Bono, 51, and his wife, fellow Irish humanitarian Alison Stewart, 50, are longstanding friends of Ms Turlington, 43, who has modelled for Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. Bono walked her down the aisle at her 2001 wedding in lieu of her father, who had died three years earlier.
Addressing the allegations made in Mr Berger’s email, Rick Miramontez – a spokesman for the show’s producers and for Bono and The Edge – told The Sunday Telegraph that the parties “won’t even dignify them with a response.”
“The producers are sorry that Julie filed this suit and do not believe it is in the best interests of the show or the people involved with it. They continue to believe an amicable resolution would be better for everyone – including Taymor,” he added.
Her Taymor’s legal papers set the scene for an epic courtroom showdown and contain allegations that step up the pressure for a solution ahead of next year’s scheduled trial.
“The producers’ effort to hold Taymor responsible for damages for failing to make improvements to the show as an author ignores the reality that the conduct of Bono and Edge – the musical’s other primary creative team members – severely hampered timely improvements to the musical,” her legal papers allege.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is based on the Marvel comic-strip superhero and on the plot and characters featured in the 2002 film, Spider-Man, in which Tobey Maguire starred as Peter Parker, a student-turned-crimefighter with arachnoid abilities.
Public previews of the stage show began in November 2010 but were poorly received, leading to five postponements of the show’s official opening amid creative commotions that included overhauls of songs, scripts and storylines.
There were additional problems with the ambitious suite of aerial stunts, the highlight of which was to have been a spectacular fight scene set in a $1 million spider’s web suspended from the ceiling of Foxwoods Theatre. Design failures led to the web’s removal after just one day in situ, as a result of which “the thrust of the story and the planned clarity and thrill of the ending of the musical were substantially diminished,” Ms Taymor states in her lawsuit.
Further woe struck when five performers were injured before the show had even opened, one breaking his wrists, another breaking his feet and a third pulling out of the show altogether after she suffered a concussion during the first public preview. A fourth was forced out of the show for two weeks with a neck injury and a fifth needed hospital treatment after crashing 20 feet into the orchestra pit due to an unsecured safety harness.
The production was fined by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration for three safety violations.
Despite the controversies, Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark is now one of the most popular shows on Broadway – less for its score and script, some critics claim, than for its visually stunning effects and daring aerobatics, which take place over the audience’s heads.
Ms Taymor, who became the first woman director to win a Tony Award following her launch of the wildly successful musical The Lion King, filed an initial lawsuit against Spider-Man’s producers – 8 Legged Productions – last year, stating that despite their claims to have created a “new” show since her dismissal in March, it remained largely hers, and that she wanted a share of its $1 million-a-week purse.
In January the producers counter-sued, alleging that Ms Taymor’s single-minded creative vision and resistance to change were the problem. “Taymor refused to develop a musical that followed the original, family-friendly ‘Spider-Man’ story. Instead, Taymor, who admits that she was not a fan of the Spider-Man story prior to her involvement with the musical, insisted on developing a dark, disjointed and hallucinogenic musical involving suicide, sex, and death,” they alleged.
Ms Taymor’s latest legal filing comes in response to that lawsuit. Her court papers complain that the U2 duo’s touring commitments prevented them giving proper input into much-needed improvements to the show.
“Bono’s and Edge’s absences caused them to miss all of the musical’s rehearsals, most of the technical rehearsals and the entire first month of preview performances – all at great cost to the timely improvements to the musical that all agreed needed to be made.”
Far from being fired for her own failure to cooperate, as the producers allege, she was dismissed in order to “appease investors” and sway critics into believing that the show’s problems had been sorted out and its format “re-imagined”, she claims.
Dale Cendali, lawyer for the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, said in a statement issued to The Sunday Telegraph: “It’s very disheartening for the former director of the show to take no responsibility for the consequences of her actions while, at the same time, trying to claim credit for the show’s success.”
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012