Revisiting the Spider-Man Musical Debacle
Remember the Spider-Man musical? It was supposed to be a smash hit when it had its first preview on November 28th, 2010. That night did not go well. It got worse from there. By the time the show closed in January 2014, it had lost $60 million—a Broadway record. Nicholas Barber tells the story of the biggest failure in Broadway history at the BBC:
The musical was announced in the summer of 2002 to capitalise on the success of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. Bono and The Edge signed up soon afterwards, but when the producers approached Taymor, she replied that she would take the job only if she ‘could find a narrative something to spark her imagination’.
That something was the Greek myth of Arachne, a woman who beat Athena in a weaving contest, and was transformed into a spider by the jealous goddess. Avi Arad, Marvel’s chief creative officer, objected: Arachne had nothing to do with Spider-Man, and her inclusion as a major character would be ‘entirely wrong’. Taymor stood her ground. So what if her concepts were gloomier, more sexualised, and, yes, more pretentious than Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comics or Raimi’s films? Her greatest triumphs came from her refusal to compromise. ‘If Arachne’s out,’ she said, ‘then I’m out.’
Another passage in Song of Spider-Man that might get your spider-sense tingling comes a few pages later. Bono and The Edge were so unfamiliar with Broadway musicals, apparently, that a producer had to burn them an educational four-CD compilation of ’60 songs from the last sixty years of musical theatre’. The stadium rockers would ‘eventually dismiss nearly all the songs as mawkish, dopey, or just “pants”’– which could be why the songs they wrote for Turn Off the Dark sounded less like catchy show tunes than vaguely angst-ridden, minor-key U2 B-sides. Berger, who was brought in to co-write the book with Taymor in 2005, is quick to defend his comrades: ‘Every artist has to figure out what they’re responding to and take it from there.’ But still… if you’re staging a Spider-Man musical, it’s probably not ideal to have a director who isn’t keen on Spider-Man comics and two composers who aren’t keen on musicals.
In other news: Hervé Le Tellier wins France’s Prix Goncourt. “France’s oldest and most celebrated literary award the Prix Goncourt has been awarded to novelist Hervé Le Tellier, a trained mathematician and former scientific journalist. For the first time in the history of the prize, the winner was announced by video link due to coronavirus restrictions. Le Tellier’s book, L’anomalie, is set in 2021 on a flight between Paris and New York. The novel is narrated by 11 different passengers on the the flight, including a part-time hit man and a Nigerian pop star.”
The last American glove maker: “Decades of offshoring have decimated American manufacturing. One baseball glove factory remains to preserve a community and a culture.”
The world’s earliest recorded copyright case was won by the plaintiff, Albrecht Dürer: “The Italian artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari reported that Dürer’s engravings and woodcuts were so prized in Venice, that many artists were copying and selling them as genuine Dürer art along with Dürer’s famous monogram. One such artist was the printmaker Marcantonio Raimondi.” (HT: David Davis)
William Logan reviews Henri Cole’s Blizzard, a new translation of Beowulf, and other volumes of poetry in The New Criterion: “Henri Cole’s early poems were full of swashes, galloons, and furbelows—they’d have looked great in a bridal-shop window. After three books, he retreated into a haunting, claustrophobic style, one that exchanged the designer’s fancies for the dark splendor of loneliness, sorrow, and unabated misery . . .The writing is gorgeously soiled by shame. (It’s not clear whether thoughts about his generation have been licked with schadenfreude.) The poets he has come to resemble are Larkin without the savage wit and Plath without the verbal skyrockets. Cole’s poems inch along, inch along, often making a sudden swerve at the end, a swerve both unexpected and just.”
Michael Prodger writes about the artists—starting with Jasper Johns, of course—who have made millions painting the American flag: “Johns, now 90, first started depicting Old Glory in 1954 after he saw himself painting the banner in a dream, or so he claimed. The image had no political symbolism but was, he said, something so familiar that the mind already knows it — he turned other ubiquitous symbols such as maps of the US, numbers, and gun targets into paintings too. Using such a hackneyed image saved him time, he reckoned, because he didn’t have to come up with a design. If people wanted to load it with associations, that was up to them . . . It has proved to be his signature theme: in 1980 the Whitney Museum paid $1 million for Three Flags (1958), at that point the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist, while in 2010, another iteration, Flag (1958), was sold privately to the hedge-funder Steven Cohen for a reported $110 million (then £73 million). Johns remains the only living artist to have topped the $100 million mark . . . It was though Johns’s pictures, however neutral, that alerted other artists to the potency of the flag and led to a flurry of subsequent imagery. In 1979-80, for example, Jean-Michel Basquiat made Untitled (Flag), a deconstructed and crumpled variant in which the stars have been transposed on to the stripes but start falling off like mutineers walking off the plank. In 1990 David Hammons made a real-life African American Flag in which he swapped the red, white and blue for the black, red, and green of Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African Flag first seen in 1920. One version was sold in 2017 for more than $2 million and, for some reason, the Black Lives Matter movement has missed an obvious trick by not adopting it.”
Speaking of money and America, Jordan J. Ballor reviews Lance Morrow’s God and Mammon: “We are living in fraught times, as the very origins and destinies of America are controverted and convoluted. The 1619 Project tells us that slavery is the corrupt root from which the American tree of so-called liberty has grown. Various other initiatives offered with more or less sincerity—such as the National Association of Scholar’s 1620 Project, The Federalist’s 1620 Project, and the presidential 1776 Commission—challenge this revisionist origin story. Against this backdrop Lance Morrow’s God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money offers a timely and lively retrospective of the motives, passions, and interests of American experiments in ordered liberty and misadventures in disordered license.”