We’ve already started this ride on the Crazy Train, so we have no choice but to see it through to the end: as of 8pm last night, it’s official: Concerning Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Julie Taymor is out, Philip William McKinley is in, and the major overhaul schedule that will delay the show’s opening until early summer has been put in place. By the time it opens, the show will have been in previews for roughly seven months. You heard me: SEVEN. Given that most shows preview for about a month or, that’s a really, really long time. But instead of pulling the plug, the producers persist in trying to rescue their baby, and while this may be a little foolhardy, it’s also sort of commendable. I think. Maybe. I’m not sure if I actually believe that. But clearly THEY believe in the show enough to keep trying to make it better, so there’s always that.
At the time of her departure, Taymor had been working on the show for nine years. This is also a really, really long time; the problem is that as the show recieved more and more negative reviews, she refused to make the changes her producers and collaborators (including Bono and the Edge from U2) wanted. Bad idea. The New York Times commented on Taymor’s downfall from Broadway giant (The Lion King) to Broadway disaster: “Ms. Taymor is a proud perfectionist, but more of a visual scene-setter than a storyteller, and her outre approach to a classic superhero story and such a huge commercial product helped speed her undoing.” I find this assessment to be pretty accurate. Taymor’s storytelling has always been much stronger when she has had an existing script to go on– this is why her early Shakespeare productions of The Tempest and Titus Andronicus (later made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins) were such successes. Her later work, including the film Across the Universe, while visually stunning, either had less story or simply wasn’t driven by the story. And that’s where things start to fall apart: theatre and film are inherently storytelling mediums, so when there’s no story, we don’t really know what to do with them. Taymor is also more of an auteur director who usually seeks complete creative control– though this often makes her a few enemies along the way, as evinced by the feud between Taymor and producer Joe Roth over the cut of Across the Universe. When Spider-Man came into the picture, these qualities combined to create a perfect storm of creative catastrophe, and well… we see how that’s gone.
Philip William McKinley, on the other hand, is mostly known for directing the 2003 Hugh Jackman vehicle The Boy From Oz (about Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen). I’ll admit that this is a little bit of an odd replacement choice to me; The Boy From Oz and Spider-Man have little in common. But then again, just because The Boy From Oz is what McKinley is KNOWN for doesn’t mean that that’s all he can do. Maybe he’ll surprise me. Heck, maybe he’ll surprise us all and turn this debacle into a massive hit.
And so I say again: We’ll see. Regardless as to the ultimate outcome, it’ll be interesting to see the before and after of Turn Off the Dark. And it’ll sure be something to remember!