When it initially began previews in 2010, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was plagued by a number of injuries and technical details that soon became the fodder for bloggers everywhere (myself included). But while I was cracking foxy, there was a battle unfolding behind the scenes at Broadway’s Foxwood Theater whose drama rivals that of any production ever mounted on the Great White Way. All the while, Glen Berger was there. As the writer of the beleaguered — and perhaps misguided from the start — Spider-Man musical, he saw the venture through from its early potential until it ultimately became, in order, a national joke, a dispenser of lawsuits and a Broadway staple. In his captivating new tell all: Song of Spider-Man, Berger presents a warts-and-all look at what really went down to bring the production to the stage, and I’m not just talking about performers falling from the rafters. Painted as a villain by the media, here director Julie Taymor comes off as a pure artist whose greatest shortcoming seems to be an almost Ayn Randian commitment to bringing her uncompromisable vision to life. The slow disintegration of Berger and Taymor’s working relationship makes up the heart of the book. Berger presents himself as a writer who worshipped Taymor, found himself somehow working with her, then had his wings burned as he joined her on a flight too close to the sun. His self-deprecation is on display throughout the book, although until we hear Taymor’s side of the story, which seems unlikely, the work is marred by its one-sidedness. Elsewhere, Bono is portrayed as a cool everyman who just so happens to disappear from time to time to meet with President Obama or raise millions in AIDS funding, with the Edge seemingly equally affable. For a story so seemingly fraught with betrayal and backstabbing, everyone seems downright genial. At least until Berger’s Plan X — a last-ditch attempt to iron out some of the musical’s biggest problems — rears its sensible head. It is here in the final third of the book where the dirt of this tale really lies, resulting in a fascinating conflict between art and commerce, ideology and reality, and friends-turned-enemies whose shared desire to bring the production to life resulted in, as the book’s cover rightly declares, “the most controversial musical in Broadway history.” If you only know Turn Off the Dark for the countless jokes it spawned, illuminate yourself to the true story of what happened. It’s more funny and strange than you could have possibly imagined.
Song of Spider-Man by Glen Berger. $25. Simon & Schuster. Available November 5th.