SONG OF SPIDER-MAN: the inside story of the making of the musical.

Pub: Simon & Schuster

November 2013
ISBN: 9 781451 684568

Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 15 07 14

Remarkable, painful, fascinating, funny.
SONG OF SPIDER-MAN, the story behind the dream turned nightmare of the Broadway musical, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, is a gripping tale. And the nightmare went on to become a dream, again, at least of sorts. SONG OF S-M is written by Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical, so a man who knows the story from the inside.

I came across the book when Berger was interviewed on Radio 4 and he was very funny about it all. I thought the book would be just as funny. But it isn’t.

Ironically funny it may be at times, and Berger’s sardonic humour comes through. But the story he has to tell is complex. It’s staggering to think that a theatre work, headed up by some of the biggest names in the US business and costing in excess of $30 million, can reach its first preview performance without having had more than 15 minutes of it being run without stopping. How many postponed openings can you have? And how do you deal with a press almost universally against you before you even open?

In this book, Berger chronicles it all. From the moment of elation at being offered the job to the moment, some six years later, when he’s sharing his writing credit with two others (one of whom had worked on the project for just 2 months, the other sacked).

The sacked co-writer was the director – none other than Julie Lion-King Taymor. Throughout the book you can’t help getting the impression that Taymor was a woman who felt herself to be infallible, who drove the car into the wall with little concern for anyone but herself and her own ego. Throughout the book, that is, until Berger starts talking of the rewrites, restructures, and new tones, that were brought in with the new team. It is then you get the clearest of all senses that Taymor was driven, yes, by a sense that she was right, but also by a passion to create a work that was dark,edgy and viscerally thrilling. Instead of which there now exists a work that is thrilling in its spectacle but a bit bland. Inoffensive. On the other hand, changes had to be made for (and a word used several times in the book) survival.

There are big names in this story – like composers Bono and Edge. But it isn’t all about the rich and super rich. It’s about the designers, the Stage Managers, the flying technicians, and PAs, about the actors, singers and dancers working long, long hours to make the show work – and some sustaining real injuries in their efforts to thrill us with art.

So a laugh a minute this book isn’t. But it’s a real attempt to show us the emotional, personal and financial pain, and sometimes the joy, that goes on behind the glitz to bring us the glitz with integrity.

This is a truly remarkable book.

2014-07-15 10:28:59

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