The musical Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark is thriving on Broadway, but now there’s more negative attention. The producers of the musical have answered the original lawsuit filed by director and book co-writer Julie Taymor after she was fired. The producers have also launched their own counter suit that challenges her contention she should be paid full royalties despite being sacked. In particular, they are challenging her assertion filed in court last November that the revamped version of the musical infringes on her copyrights, and they are trying to thwart her attempt to bar them from taking the musical to other venues. Even though the musical is grossing well, its $1.2 million weekly running costs mean that recouping of the $75 million budget will happen as slow as molasses–unless the producers take a version of the show on the road, and perhaps to Las Vegas.
The producers charge that while Taymor was contracted to co-write and collaborate on the musical that has music from U2′s Bono and The Edge, she refuses “to fulfill her contractual obligations, declaring that she could not and would not do the jobs that she was contracted to do.” The producers claim her stubbornness left them no choice but to replace her with Philip Wm. McKinley, whose vast background with Barnum & Bailey Circus helped curb the aerial mishaps, and a rewrite by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Glen Berger cured enough of the production’s ills to save the show. “As a result of all of the changes that Taymor could not and would not make, the Spider-Man musical is now a hit,” the producers asserted. “The show is a success despite Taymor, not because of her.” While Taymor was there to take bows when the long postponed opening night finally happened, it was clear that there would be another chapter in the courts. At its heart, this is about money, and the Spidey producers also filed an antitrust suit against the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and Taymor in US District Court, Southern District of New York, in response to Taymor’s claim she is entitled to be paid “full royalties as director and collaborator despite the fact that Taymor caused numerous delays, drove up costs, and failed to direct a musical about Spider-Man that could open on Broadway.” Ouch.
EXCLUSIVE: The Oscar race just got a little more interesting. EuropaCorp has made a U.S. distribution deal with Cohen Media Group for the Luc Besson-directed The Lady, the story of Burmese pro-democracy activist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. Upstart Cohen Media Group plans to release the film for an Oscar-qualifying platform release late this year to capitalize on strong performances by Michelle Yeoh, who plays Suu Kyi, and David Thewlis, who plays her Oxford professor husband Michael Aris. The film will get a wider release in early 2012. Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest by the repressive Burmese military-controlled government. Leaders cruelly barred her husband and two sons from visiting her, thinking that it would drive her to leave. Because she knew that once gone she would never be permitted re-entry, Suu Kyi sacrificed everything to stay and become an iconic symbol of democracy and human rights. Her husband and sons bolstered her spirit and campaigned for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded in 1991. The distribution deals came quickly after the film premiered Monday evening at Roy Thomson Hall, where Besson, Yeoh and Thewlis received a rousing standing ovation. The deal was brokered by EuropaCorp Group CEO Christophe Lambert and Cohen Media Group CEO Charles S. Cohen.
The Lady becomes the second Toronto title to become an instant entry into upcoming awards season, after Fox Searchlight acquired the NC-17 Steve McQueen-directed Shame with plans to campaign for Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.
After establishing himself as France’s answer to Steven Spielberg directing hits like La Femme Nikita and The Professional and co-writing and producing action films like Taken, Besson has become very selective in the projects he directs. While he has always had a soft spot for strong female protagonists, it has always been in action settings. The Lady is a decided departure and certainly his most personal film to date. Besson made it to refocus the world’s attention on an activist whose continuing plight gets easily forgotten in a turbulent world, even though she won that Nobel Peace Prize and U2′s Bono and The Edge wrote the song Walk On about her sacrifice (which got U2′s album banned in Burma). Read More »
Philip William McKinley, the stage director who replaced Julie Taymor and stopped the bleeding — literally and figuratively — on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, will next tackle something even more iconic than a superhero saga: The Old Testament. He’s directing The Bible: The Beginning, a live show scaled for arena-sized venues that will use music, dialogue, tumblers, jugglers, singers, aerialists and fighters to re-enact the Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, Moses and his clash with the Pharaoah, the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, all culminating in the delivery of The Ten Commandments. The musical will be narrated by Gabriel the Messenger; Raphael the Healer; and Michael, Leader of God’s armies.
The show will be more logistically complex than Spider-Man, which, McKinley swears, won’t need a miracle to recoup a mammoth budget pegged at $70 million before it opened. “We are selling out every night, consistently drawing $1.7 million each week and finishing behind Wicked and The Lion King,” he said. “Right now, it’s all about maintenance and being incredibly conscientious. We’ve got the New York Department of Labor in the building for every show still, but we’ve taken safety to heart.”
Since the show’s operating costs are in the range of $1.2 million per week, Spider-Man will need a loooong run for its investors to be made whole. That effort to recoup will be helped by broadening beyond Broadway, something McKinley said he’ll help facilitate when the time is right. While Spider-Man hardly drew raves when it opened after umpteenth delays — including a three-week shutdown McKinley needed to implement changes — the director feels that the musical that was driven as much by visual effects as music by U2′s Bono and The Edge has turned a corner from being a cautionary tale about the limits of live theater to a model for what is possible. The Bible will push that envelope further, even though it’s too large to fit in a Broadway venue. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark star Reeve Carney has signed on to play Jeff Buckley in the untitled film about the late musician that Welcome to the Rileys helmer Jake Scott is putting together for a November shoot. Carney, who performed the Bono/The Edge-penned Spider-Man single Rise Above 1 at the American Idol finale, will do all the singing to bring to life the music of Buckley, who was just getting started as a solo artist when he drowned at age 30.
Considering that Buckley had only released a single album when he died in 1997 after getting caught in the wake of a passing boat in Tennessee’s Wolf River, it seems amazing that there are not one but three feature films about him. The first one to start production will be Greetings From Tim Buckley, the Dan Algrant-directed indie film that starts a four-week shoot Monday in Brooklyn. Conventional wisdom that the first film out of the gate wins doesn’t necessarily apply here; these two projects tell very different stories about Buckley. Scott is making a biopic, while Greetings From Tim Buckley stars Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley as a pre-fame Jeff Buckley who reconnects with his estranged father Tim by singing at a tribute concert for his folk-singer dad. In Algrant’s film, that short adventure forged Jeff Buckley’s own solo aspirations. The other Buckley film is called A Pure Drop and it is being mounted by Mad Bastards director Brendan Fletcher. The title comes from the book A Pure Drop: The Life of Jeff Buckley. Read More »
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally opened on Broadway on Tuesday night. There was a star-studded crowd that included Bill Clinton, a 10-minute standing ovation, and even deposed director Julie Taymor got up to take a bow. And, thank goodness, no actors fell from the rafters. A press release from the show’s reps reports that “critics and audiences cheer[ed] the opening,” and offered a few effusive blurbs from USA Today, MTV and NY1 News. Well, first of all, they weren’t reading the reviews I saw. In The New York Times (generally the review that helps a show fly or die), Ben Brantley compared its earlier incarnation to now as an “ascent from jaw-dropping badness to mere mediocrity,” but that isn’t a rave since he likened that earlier version to “watching the Hindenburg crash and burn.” The Wall Street Journal called the book “flabby and witless” and, as for the plot, “everything that happens is utterly familiar and utterly predictable.” To sum up, the WSJ offers that “$70 million and nearly nine years of effort, all squandered on a damp squib. … Never in the history of Broadway has so much been spent to so little effect.” The other Gotham papers basically said it was better than it was when Taymor was calling the shots, but essentially that its edge (not to be confused with U2′s The Edge) had been varnished away, leaving blandness and U2 songs that aren’t the catchiest that Bono and The Edge ever came up with. Read More »
Elton John hosted Saturday Night Live last night with help from several guest stars like Tom Hanks, who appeared in three skits, including one that featured John presiding over an emergency meeting of Knights of the Realm (aka knighted British celebrities) mulling ways to thwart a dragon attack on London. … Read More »
French newspaper Le Figaro reported Marion Cotillard is set for Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. We’ll get some clarity today, but the move makes sense given that most everyone in that cast but Anne Hathaway (Catwoman) worked with Nolan … Read More »
As expected, the much-troubled Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark has delayed its opening night from January 11, 2011 to Monday, February 7. The $65 million musical, which has found itself more under a microscope than just about any Broadway-bound musical … Read More »
Despite all the skepticism it would ever get to Broadway because of its prohibitive running costs, Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark has been set to begin preview performances on November 14, with opening night set for December 21. Julie Taymor … Read More »
I know what Bono and the broadcast networks will call today’s ruling on FCC’s policy on fleeting expletives by a federal appeals court – “f**king brilliant.” In a major victory for the U.S. broadcasters, the three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit … Read More »