Settlement removes cloud from 'Spider-Man' musical

Director was fired after years of delays, accidents and critical backlash

By Mark Kennedy
AP Drama Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — The bickering parents of Broadway’s most expensive show have made up — in court at least — and that removes a huge cloud above the future of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

Producers and fired director Julie Taymor hashed out a settlement that was announced Wednesday, and both sides released statements hoping the superhero show could now soar beyond Broadway.

Taymor, the original “Spider-Man” director and co-book writer, was fired in 2011 after years of delays, accidents and critical backlash to a show whose price tag ballooned to $75 million.

Taymor slapped the producers, led by Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris, as well as Glen Berger, her former co-book writer, with a federal copyright infringement lawsuit, alleging they violated her creative rights and hadn’t compensated her for the work she put into the show. The producers’ filed a counterclaim asserting the copyright claims were baseless.

Though settlement talks had been ongoing, a final deal hadn’t been hammered out, and Manhattan federal Judge Katherine Forrest had set a May 27 trial date, which has now been made moot.
The settlement means a legal quagmire has been removed and frees producers to consider options, including a tour or a new home for the show if it ever needs to leave Broadway. No details about the settlement or how it was reached were revealed.

It was clear that prolonged and embarrassing court hearings would further injure the property. Taymor, in a statement, said she had hope “for the continued success of Spider-Man, both on Broadway and beyond.” The producers said they looked forward to spreading the show “in new and exciting ways around the world.”

The show, which features music by U2’s Bono and The Edge, opened in November 2010 but spent months in previews and then retooling before officially opening a few days after the Tony Awards in June 2011. It has become a financial hit at the box office.

Taymor’s lawsuit sought half of all profits derived from the sale, license, transfer or lease of any rights in the original “Spider-Man” book along with a permanent ban of the use of her name or likeness in connection with a documentary film that was made of the birth of the musical without her consent.

It also sought a jury trial to determine her share of profits from the unauthorized use of her version of the superhero story, which it said was believed to be in excess of $1 million.

In the run-up to a legal showdown, papers revealed a behind-the-scenes atmosphere that was secretive and slightly paranoid. Taymor alleged that Berger was told to quietly work on changes to the story without Taymor’s knowledge — called “Plan X” — that in an email Berger complained led him to lead a “double life” working with and against Taymor.

After Taymor left, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, director Philip William McKinley and choreographer Chase Brock cleaned up a story that had wandered into darker and mythological themes, while Bono and The Edge reworked the songs. More flying stunts were added, and the romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane returned to center stage.

The use of four comic-book fans who framed the plot and represented Taymor, Bono, The Edge and Berger were cut. The role of a villainous spider-woman named Arachne was scaled back, and the Green Goblin’s role was enhanced.

Taymor had alleged that the show hadn’t been re-imagined after her firing and that what audiences are seeing at the Foxwoods Theatre is essentially the same show she directed.

On opening night, Taymor received a standing ovation and kisses from cast members, as well as from Bono and The Edge. The three were all smiles and posed for pictures together on the red carpet.

The stunt-heavy show has done brisk business since it opened its doors and most weeks easily grosses more than the $1.2 million the producers have indicated they need to reach to stay viable and pay off debts. But getting rid of a legal headache may open the door for more revenue options.