As a long-time Spider-Man fan, and as someone who used to work in professional theatre, I was obsessed with the cursed development of the Julie Taymor / U2 musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark from its very earliest workshops and readings. That was long before it actually made it to Broadway, filling headlines with horrible accidents, with a record-breaking 182 performance preview period and record-breaking sales even as it lost tremendous amounts of money.
Despite my fascination, I never actually saw the show; I didn't even read playwright Glen Berger's tell-all book slash desperate attempt to protect his reputation. Why would I give any of my money to someone's explosive ego-trip?
Now, nearly a decade after the show's demise, someone's been compiling performance archives on YouTube. Since it was famously almost always in previews — meaning that, aside from the countless on-stage accidents, they were still tweaking the show, night after night — the Turn Off The Dark Archives on YouTube also chronicle the different versions of the play as it changed over time. You can watch and compare between different versions of the same scene, and ask yourself how the hell someone decided that specific change was going to improve the awfulness. As Joey Sims of the BNet newsletter explains:
According to these online Broadway archivists, there are three versions of Turn off the Dark, which was directed by Julie Taymor, with music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge of U2. First came Turn off the Dark 1.0, Taymor's original vision, which began previews on November 8, 2010. Following a storm of delays, cast injuries and critical derision, Taymor attempted to rework the show, creating Version 1.5. When that didn't quite work Taymor was kicked to the curb, and a new director (assisted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who rewrote the book and would later go on to create the Hot Archie show Riverdale) created 2.0, the final version which ran on Broadway through 2014.
Take the channel's side-by-side of "Sinistereo," a number about the Sinister Six attacking New York City. In 1.0, the scene relies almost entirely on projections. While The Edge sings about… something ("Much of madness and more of sin/No government of this vast formless thing") and video animations of the Six play, nothing is actually happening on the stage. The solution, in 2.0? Some journalists have been added, walking around describing the attacks and singing adjusted lyrics like "If fear is fire/Why do we feed the fire?" Different but, not a whole lot more exciting. Neither version is particularly good, but the YouTube archive lets you reassemble and experience the train-wreck of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark through all of its iterations — a comprehensive archive made possible because of the internet and through crowdsourcing.
To be clear: the scenes are mostly shot on hidden cellphone cameras in the audience, which is technically illegal, and gives the a lot of the archives that very embarrassing-community-theatre-home-video vibe. But it's remarkable that it exists at all — it's almost like Taymor and Bono went out of their way to otherwise erase the show's thousand-plus performance tenure from Broadway history.
Luckily, the Internet never forgets.
Turn Off The Dark Archives on YouTube
Spider-Man: Turn On The Videos [Joey Sims / BNet]