Spider-Man Writer Glen Berger on His Tell-All Book About the Musical and What He Thinks of Its Move to Vegas

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano on stage at
Reeve Carney in a scene from “SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark” Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark musical will end its Broadway run in January, with plans to reopen later at a venue in Vegas. The news comes fresh on the heels of Glen Berger’s new memoir, Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, a dishy tell-all about the infighting, backstabbing, overblown egos, and near-death experiences that plagued the spandex-y nightmare from start to finish. We spoke to Berger, who co-wrote the musical’s book, about the news, his détente with director Julie Taymor, and if he’s holding out for his Vegas payday.

What was your reaction to the news?
I didn’t have the information from the inside, but we all had inklings that January might be the time. So we were prepared for the blow.

How do you feel about the show moving to Vegas?
It could be a lovely thing. I’m very happy to hear that it’s not going to just disappear forever, that in some maybe evolved form it will be elsewhere. Theater’s such an ephemeral thing that it’s always heartening when you see it living just a bit longer.

I’d imagine that when you started the project, hearing that it would end up in Vegas was one of the worst things you could have envisioned.
Well, it was always on a list. There was a time, years ago, when all of the talk wasn’t, do you think it’ll last on Broadway? It was how many other productions were we going to have after a year on Broadway, and then who was going to be in the movie … But Vegas was on that list of, Oh, you know, obviously, after we’re on Broadway for a year or two, Vegas is a no-brainer. Julie and Bono and Edge and everybody was talking in those terms. But in addition to Vegas, we had a list of fifteen other cities as well.

Throughout the book, there was always this looming question of financial survival. So what ended up happening: Did you make your money back?
[Laughing] Oh, no. It will always be an issue. But that’s good, that keeps you lean and wanting.

You’re not holding out for a Vegas payday?
No. Oh my gosh, you really can’t, ever. If there’s any lessons that we’ve learned: You can’t ever be in it expecting a payday. In this entire entertainment industry, you can dream big, but if your expectations are any more than just idle dreaming, then you’re being a fool.

You mention at the end of the book that you and Julie [Taymor] had somewhat reconciled. Have you?
I would say — I mean, I hope. You know, who’s to say? I think maybe that sort of voodoo doll phase of the relationship might have faded now.

How did she feel about the book — did she ever read it or talk to you about it?
I don’t think she’s read it yet. I’m terribly curious, but at the same time, what I’ve learned over the years is that people read what they’re going to read, and I’m not totally confident that the book I wrote is the book she would be reading.

If you could go back with the benefit of full hindsight, would you do it again?
If I could do it again maybe thirty more times, I think I would do it, just to see how things might have played out differently. I do these flow charts as I do the dishes at night. I find myself coming back to, if this had happened instead of this, or if this had happened instead of this, and you still wind up with no real firm conclusions about how certain things could have been avoided. So I would love to be able to try out the different scenarios just so I could rest more easily. A little bit like Groundhog Day, really.

Spider-Man meets Groundhog Day.
Yeah, to find out how it all could have worked out. But then again, maybe doing it again thirty times might not be the best idea.

Yeah, maybe not. So you don’t regret the whole experience?
No. You sort of have to receive everything that happens to you with simplicity, I think that’s Rashi. He’s a medieval Jewish wise fellow. “Receive everything that happens to you with simplicity.” And I didn’t really understand that until we went through Spider-Man. Even though it was epic and surely took some years off my life as a writer, it was, if anything, fascinating. And certainly emotional fodder for me for the next twenty years of my writing.

There’s rumors now that the King Kong musical is coming in to the theater next.
And God bless them. There are rumors, I don’t know anything solid, but yeah — have at it, King Kong. [Laughs.]

Would you ever consider working on a big blockbuster musical like this again?
Oh yeah. You know, it’s hopeless. I would dive in absolutely headfirst once more. And the pool could be empty again, but once you’re in this business — it’s really hard to walk away from it.

It sounds like it was a pretty traumatic experience, though. How long did it take you to recover?
From writing the book, or from the experience itself? The show itself — after opening night, the very last thing I wanted to do was re-live it again for a year and a half in the writing of it. And that is what happened. I sat down to write the book every day and within hours, I’m screaming at my computer, I’m pacing, I’m feeling clammy. So at the end of the day I’d make a vow: Tomorrow, don’t get emotionally involved. Just write the words. And then it would happen again, and I realized that I must have recorded a lot of what happened not with my brain, but with my body, and that really the only way that I was ever going to recall the events was to have it physically come out. It did really feel like a purging.

So did you ever get to go on a nice long vacation after the show re-opened? 
I think we went to a beach in Delaware after the show opened. You know, I had been given a lucky two-dollar bill on the first day of rehearsal for Spider-Man. And I held on to that two-dollar bill for the next two years. All I could think was, just imagine all the horrors that would have happened if I didn’t have this two-dollar bill. I didn’t think once, Oh, maybe it’s the two dollar bill, maybe it’s cursed. Anyway, November 5, when the book hit the shelves, I finally gave it away. I gave it to Mat Devine — he played one of the geeks in the original version. So now I feel like that chapter is finally closed.

So we’ll see how Mat fares in the next little while.
If we hear about fiery accidents out in California, we’ll know.

Spider-Man Writer on the Musical’s Move to Vegas