NEW YORK (AP) — Back in December, when the Broadway "Spider-Man" musical was generating embarrassing headlines over injuries sustained by an actor in a fall, director Julie Taymor met with her cast for a pep talk of sorts. "Rise Above," the title of a key song in the show, was the mantra guiding her and the company, she told a reporter then.
Ultimately, though, Taymor herself was unable to rise above the scathing press the show received, especially when theater critics roundly panned the show last month. On Wednesday, producers announced she was no longer director of the $65 million production, and they delayed the opening for a sixth time — until this summer.
It was a stunning and painful development for the heralded director of "The Lion King," a megahit that is No. 3 at the box office more than a decade after it opened. Taymor, known for her bold and creative artistic vision, is believed to have been pushed aside because she wouldn't accept the need for wholesale changes to "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which she co-wrote, and outside help.
Longtime Taymor friends and associates were saddened and bewildered by the turn of events.
"It has to be like someone taking her child from her," said Jeffrey Horowitz, a longtime friend and colleague, before the official announcement. "Her projects were like her children. She puts absolutely everything into them. And so for someone to say, 'We're gonna fix it,' that must be terrible for her."
Taymor had been especially hurt by the negative tone of news coverage and online chatter.
"It's hard," she told The Associated Press in December. "I try not to look."
Horowitz, artistic director at the Theater for a New Audience, said Taymor was distressed by some of the labels attached to her — with people saying that she was interested in spectacle over substance or that she was too much of a perfectionist.
"You don't hire people like Julie Taymor unless you want people who push boundaries," he said. "This show is a piece of art, and it has been described as a spectacle gone out of control. That is dangerous — for her and for other artists who take risks."
Though producers said Taymor, 58, would remain part of the creative team, she was being replaced as director by Philip William McKinley. Also on the team was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, to help with the writing, musical consultant Paul Bogaev and sound designer Peter Hylenski.
With the delay, the production has taken itself out of the running for Tony Award consideration this year, but it will be eligible for the 2012 season.
At the Foxwoods Theatre on Wednesday, actors said they did not want to speak to the media. One fan told Matthew James Thomas, who played Peter Parker/Spider-Man at the evening show, that he hoped "all the bad press would go away."
"Tell us about it," replied Thomas. "We've been dealing with it for a long time."
U2's Bono and The Edge, who wrote the music and lyrics, were at the theater earlier to speak with the cast. They will be adding two new songs, producers said.
The show's press representative, Rick Miramontez, said no performances will be canceled during the overhaul.
"Julie Taymor is not leaving the creative team," said lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris. "Her vision has been at the heart of this production since its inception and will continue to be so."
In a situation that confounded Taymor's supporters, Wednesday's changes were made despite the fact that the show has been defying the reviews and posting impressive numbers at the box office. It was the second highest-grossing show on Broadway this week, after "Wicked," pulling in close to $1.3 million, though it was slightly down from the week before.
Indeed, the scene at the Foxwoods Theatre on Wednesday was in marked contrast to the turmoil in the headlines. The line to get into both shows snaked well down a huge city block and was filled with tourists, an entire class of schoolchildren and others clearly excited to see the much-talked-about flying scenes — including an aerial battle between Spider-Man and his nemesis the Green Goblin.
In a mishap perhaps unfortunate for its timing, given Wednesday's announcement, that key stunt — the climax of the first act — had to be scuttled at the evening performance because Green Goblin's steering mechanism froze and he dangled over the stage for close to 10 minutes, with Spider-Man waiting for him on a balcony ledge.
The actors, though, mugged a bit for the audience, which responded with appreciative laughter — except for a few people who got up and left the theater on the spot.
Some theatergoers were actually thrilled that they had gotten to see the messup.
"I loved it! It made it so cool," said Taylor Rector, 21, visiting from Annapolis, Md. "It was great to see how the actors reacted."
Overall, she said, she adored the show.
"It made my entire visit to New York," she said, her mother nodding in agreement by her side. "It's a piece of history."
There were similar reactions from many at the matinee performance.
"It was so different from anything I have ever seen," said McKell Clayson, who had flown in on the redeye from Utah with her family that morning. "I loved it. Really impressive."
Not everyone was thrilled, though the audience was largely enthusiastic.
"I expected it to be bad, but it was only sort of bad," said Josh Abella, a lawyer. At least, he said, "I can tell my friends tomorrow that I saw a mishap."
Taymor has kept a relatively low profile as she tinkered with the show, though she referred to her troubles during a recent talk at TED, an annual tech conference held this year in Long Beach, Calif.
"I'm in 'The Crucible' right now," she said, referring to the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials. "It's trial by fire."
As of Wednesday night's performance, "Spider-Man" has had 101 previews. For comparison, among musicals currently on Broadway, "Wicked" had 25 previews, "American Idiot" had 26 and "The Lion King" had 33. Most critics got fed up last month and reviewed it, largely panning it.
The show easily beat the 71-show mark for most previews of a musical, held by Arthur Laurents' "Nick and Nora" in 1991. That may not bode well for the comic book hero — "Nick and Nora" collapsed a week after its official opening.
"Spider-Man" is unusual in that it was built specifically for the 1,928-seat Foxwoods, meaning a traditional tryout outside New York wasn't possible.
Unlike "Wicked," tickets to "Spider-Man" are now available at the discount TKTS booth — a possible reason that total grosses slipped last week.
Also last week, the show's production company was issued three violations of workplace safety standards by federal regulators for four incidents late last year.
Copyright (2011) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.