Comics : Song of Spider-Man

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This review was first published on: Nov 2015.

Background...

Glen Berger was the primary writer for the long-awaited and ill-fated Broadway Musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark". The show was six years in the making, but ran for only two and a half years before being cancelled in January 2014.

In Detail...

Song of Spider-Man
Nov 2014 : SM Article
Find ISBN 9781451684575
Publisher:  Simon/Schuster, Inc.
Writer:  Glen Berger
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To date, "Turn Off The Dark" is the most expensive Musical Stage Show ever produced, with an estimated production cost of $65 million. It also holds the record for the highest box office takings in a week, grossing $2.9 million across nine performances. It featured ground-breaking aerial fighting scenes, and a well-regarded sound-track by U2's creative duo, Bono and The Edge.

This book tells how the show came to be and then not to be, as seen by Glen Berger, an industry outsider and naive newcomer to the Broadway scene. As a creator, Berger wouldn't see any revenue from the show until it finally went "live". He spent most of those six years as a poor, optimistic intellectual playwright caught in the cogs of a huge machine, and his underdog view forms much of the charm and humour of the tale.

From idealistic beginnings, Glen charts the show's progress as it develops from grim and overly-ambitious, through flawed and overly-ambitious, to confused, disjointed, self-destructive, and dangerously overly-ambitious. In the process the show changed producer, backer, director, and writing team. Launching late, it ran in "preview" mode for several months, undergoing near-constant reworking of the script, plot, dances, songs, and special effects. Performances were frequently halted for technical glitches, and several cast members were seriously injured or even crippled.

To further complicate matters, director and co-writer Julie Taymor's axing late in the show's development saw her launch a court case suing for damages and recognition.

In General...

Glen is the ideal candidate to write this story for several reasons. Firstly, he more than anybody else involved is a true writer. Despite being a newcomer to musical theatre, he's a successful playwright and TV show scripter. He demonstrates a great memory for detail, and a quick turn of phrase.

Secondly, he was involved in the whole process from start to finish. He was one of the few from the original team who was not fired when Julie Taymor was pushed out after Disney became directly involved (leading to the "Version 2.0" re-development of the show). Bono and The Edge also stayed on, but they frequently flitted in and out during the creative stages, while Glen (for better or worse) saw the whole thing through. He more than anyone can tell the entire story.

And tell the story he does, with insight and humanity.

Overall Rating...

Based on various comments I had read about this book, I was expecting it to be a finger-pointing "Tua Culpa" exercise with Berger explaining exactly how he was wronged by the corporate machine, and how the show's various failings were caused by everybody else but him.

But not at all.

Given the circumstances, Berger comes across as far and well-balanced in his version of events. For the most part he avoids pointing the finger at any individuals. He restrains from allocating blame, and where he does apportion responsibility, he does so without any sense of vindictiveness. The enterprise was difficult, many unfortunate circumstances arose, opportunities were lost, people did what they felt was best at the time.

Perhaps my major dissatisfaction with the book is that I finished reading it still having very little idea of what the actual plot or structure of the show was. I would have greatly welcomed an appendix describing the show's changing outline (acts, scenes, musical numbers, key special effects) as it transitions through its many versions. There's no DVD available of the show. So when Berger described various heated debates about the restructuring of Act II, I felt as if I was a high-school kid hoping the teacher wasn't going to ask questions about the reading assignment I hadn't completed.

Four Webs for this entertaining post-mortem of hubris, ambition, foolishness and hope.

Footnote...

The book was originally released in Hardback. The Paperback version was released several months later, and contains an additional "Afterword" which provides an update on the relationship between Glen Berger and his co-creator Julie Taymor.