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Why didn't Disney & Marvel officials come to Spider-Man's rescue during "Turn Off the Dark" 's Broadway debacle?

Why didn't Disney & Marvel officials come to Spider-Man's rescue during "Turn Off the Dark" 's Broadway debacle?

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Over the past few days, you've probably seen a story or two about "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." You know, that problem-plagued Broadway musical which just closed at the Foxwoods Theatre this past Saturday night.

Given that Marvel Entertainment, LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, there were always those within the theater community who wondered why -- when "Turn Off the Dark" was genuinely floundering during this show's seemingly endless preview period -- why the Mouse & Marvel didn't come to "Spider-Man" 's rescue. Especially given that "Turn Off the Dark" 's key creative was Tony Award-winner Julie Taymor, the director / designer of Disney Theatrical's hugely popular / immensely profitable long-running stage musical version of "The Lion King."


Copyright 2013 Simon & Schuster.
All rights reserved

Well, as Glen Berger reveals in "Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History " (Simon & Schuster, November 2013), Disney and Marvel were well aware of what was going on with this show. Especially when "Turn Off the Dark" 's producers were considering "Plan X." Which would involve suspending previews of this extremely troubled musical for several weeks so that its libretto (which Taymor had written with Berger) could then be overhauled.

("Turn Off the Dark" producer) Michael Cohl said nothing could happen without the approval of Ike Perlmutter (Marvel's CEO) and Bob Iger (Disney's CEO), so any definitive plan was still a few days away.

By late February of 2011, both Ike & Bob had been briefed. And according to Glen, they were ...


Copyright 2010 Marvel. All rights reserved

... were concerned about the cost of the plan ($3.5 million would have been tolerable, but the price tag was looking more like five million). They were also concerned that shutting down the show for three weeks would "disrupt the show's momentum."

More to the point, Disney Theatrical officials were concerned about possibly offending Julie Taymor. Given that ...

... she was busy developing other theatre projects (including an adaptation of "Pinocchio " for Disney)


Julie Taymor sculpting the masks & head-dresses used during the workshop phase
of "The Lion King." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So in the end, Disney opted to keep a respectful distance when it came to the "Turn Off the Dark" debacle. Given that Company officials were all too aware of what happened with the stage version of "The Lion King" prior to its opening on Broadway ...

"The Lion King" (officially budgeted at eighteen million, but more likely costing closer to thirty million) was funded by Disney.

But -- in the end -- all was forgiven. All of the pre-opening fights with Taymor were forgiven ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Whether the tussle was with  ... dubious Disney executives over how little "lion" you actually needed for a lion costume, Julie (Taymor) almost always prevailed when she held her ground.

... because "The Lion King" eventually wound up becoming this multi-billion dollar grossing stage musical franchise.

And Taymor obviously expected lightning to strike twice with "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Which explains Julie's response to a May 2, 2007 article penned by notorious Broadway muckmeister Michael Reidel. Which said:

Word is that the show, which is getting a staged reading this summer, could cost almost $30 million to bring to Broadway. "The numbers are going to be astronomical," says a producer who is familiar with the show's finances.


Copyright 2010 Marvel. All rights reserved

"Thirty million is 'astronomical,' " snorted Julie, "and meanwhile the Spider-Man movie cost a quarter-BILLION. And David, it's not really going to be thirty million anyway, is it."

("Turn Off the Dark" lead producer David Garfinkle responded by saying) "Uh, no no ... it's more like twenty-three ... twenty-four -- "

"And who wants to see a ten-million-dollar Spider-Man musical anyway?! That's just stupid. And you know, The Lion King, in 2007 dollars, cost easily thirty million -- it's just that nobody cares, cause it's taken in over a billion in grosses ..."


Copyright 2010 Marvel. All rights reserved

Well, as "Song of Spider-Man" recounts, things didn't go quite as Ms. Taymor expected. By March of 2011, Julie had left the show. And Philip William McKinley -- a veteran director of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey arena circus extravanganzas -- was brought in to redirect certain portions of this show. In the end, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" had the longest preview period in Broadway history (182 previews total). And when this rock musical finally officially opened on June 14, 2011, it got very mixed reviews.

Well, even though the Broadway version of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" closed on Saturday and alleged lost $60 million of the $75 million that investors put into this production's budget, it's hoped that a significantly revamped version of this show will finally become a financial success when it opens in Las Vegas sometime in 2015. There's also supposedly been offers from producers in Germany, Russia and Japan to stage productions of this rock musical there.

Which brings us to the big question: Given that "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has finally put its very troubled Broadway debut behind it, is this the moment that the Mouse & Marvel stop being so stand-offish about this show and then become much more hands-on when it comes to future productions of this musical? Given Disney Theatrical's decades of success when it comes to international touring productions of its shows (More to the point, given Disney's already established working relationships with producers & theater owners around the globe), it would obviously make sense if this were to happen.


Copyright 2014 Marvel. All rights reserved

But then again, given Julie Taymor's still obviously raw feelings when it comes to "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" (It was only April of last year that Ms. Taymor settled her wrongful termination lawsuit with the producers of this "Spider-Man" musical. And while she did reportedly get a "significant" financial settlement, it still has to sting that -- as of her deal with "Turn Off the Dark" 's producers -- they no longer have to consult her when it comes to altering the script that Taymor co-wrote for this show and/or changing the way Julie staged this rock musical), one wonders if Disney Theatrical -- given that they wouldn't want to do anything that might potentially damage their nearly two decades-long working relationship with Ms. Taymor -- will just simply opt out to having anything to do with "Turn Off the Dark." Leaving it to some other arm of The Walt Disney Company and/or Marvel Entertainment, LLC to work with this rock musical's cadre of producers & investors when it come to negotiating the contracts for that proposed Las Vegas production and/or the versions that Japanese, Russian & Germany theatrical impresarios want to stage.

Anyway, if you're looking for a juicy behind-the-scene look at how Spidey's Broadway debut went wrong, then you should definitely pick up a copy of Glen Berger's "Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History ."

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  • I'm assuming that the deals for this musical were made before Disney bought Marvel?

    If that's the case then it is for the best that Disney let this thing fail so they can start to unravel all the deals that Marvel did before Disney bought them.

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