In Their Own Words: How New Collaborators Taught Spider-Man to Fly Again

By Robert Simonson
29 Jun 2011

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN


When you began work on Spider-Man, how did you view your job?
RAS: For me, it was all about the story and characters, and helping the rest of the team bring forward what was already there, in the DNA of the show. We really worked hard to make Peter and Mary Jane's relationship the emotional spine of the show. One very simple thing we did, which had a deep impact, I think, was moving up their first kiss. It used to happen half-way or two-thirds of the way through the second act. By beefing up their friendship in Act One, ending Act One with that first kiss (on the bridge, while Norman Osborn's becoming the Green Goblin), we could pick up with Peter and MJ in full-on boyfriend/girlfriend mode at the top of Act Two. That, of course, makes Peter's dilemma — should I be Spider-Man even though it may mean giving up the girl of my dreams? — much more resonant during "Boy Falls," near the end of the show. (Also, it gives the teenagers something to scream about during "Picture This," when dreamboat Reeve Carney plants one on the sexiest Mary Jane of all time, Jen Damiano.)

Also, like everyone else, we wanted to see more of Aunt May and Uncle Ben, some more of Flash Thompson — not only to honor the beloved characters from the comic books and movies, but also to showcase our amazing actors. (During one of our previews, [co-librettist] Glenn Berger turned to me and said: "Isabel Keating is Aunt May," and I was like, "Totally.") Same with Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin. If he was going to go the distance and be our main baddie, he needed more depth and more of a journey. His relationship with his wife Emily had to be showcased a bit more, so we tried to do that. It helped, of course, that we were all on the same page about what we wanted to do. (It helped, also, to have someone like Patrick Page, who can do literally anything.)

In your opinion, what is the biggest change that you made to the show? Why was it important?
RAS: It's all in terms of the leaner, clearer, more muscular storyline. We set out to make the show's skeleton sturdier, to support the incredible visuals, the beautiful songs. We built up the connective tissue between scenes and stories. If Peter decides to blow off being Spider-Man for a night, we see the consequences of that. If scientists double-cross Norman Osborn, he's going to take his revenge on them. (Or, rather, the Green Goblin is.) We didn't want characters to pop-up in one scene and then disappear. We wanted to introduce themes and ideas and then develop them.

Patrick Page as the Green Goblin
photo by Jacob Cohl

Describe what a typical early day of rehearsal was like, during the period the show was closed.
RAS: The days were long. Usually a writers' meeting with Phil McKinley, Glenn Berger, and the rest of our "core" team [including] unsung heroes Eileen Hagerty, Allison Cottrell and Greg Murray, in Phil's apartment, with lots of coffee. We'd discuss script changes, what we'd seen the night before, what we were going to try and accomplish that day. Then rehearsal. Often rewriting things in the room, with their actors on their feet. Then a stumble-through or run-through or preview. Then Glenn and I would have a meeting — what worked, what didn't work. Then, if it was something huge, we'd corner Phil. If it could wait, we'd table it till the next morning, when the whole thing would begin again. And, of course, going home to write or rewrite. We were working 24-7. For about three weeks, if you checked my phone, you'd only see calls coming in or going out to Phil or Glenn.

At what point did you know you were headed in the right direction? Why did you feel that?
RAS: We had a stumble-through, in one of the rehearsal halls in the Foxwoods. It was a Friday afternoon, the first time we were putting everything together. (I think it was right before Spidey 1.0 closed, so the cast was still performing the old show at night while rehearsing the new show during the day.) It was the first time the ensemble heard and saw all the new stuff we'd been doing with the principals. It was the first time most of the designers were back together in one room, all of the stage-managers. It was rough — a mess, in fact — but a kind of magic happened, you started feeling for these two teenagers from Queens, Peter and MJ, and, well, we all breathed a little easier after that day. (At least, I did.)

When the audience returned, did their reaction to your work surprise you at all? If so, how?
RAS: That first preview of the new "Spidey" was, in a way, even more of an emotional roller coaster than opening night — again, only speaking for myself. Because no one knew exactly what we had at that point. We all felt good about the work we'd been doing, but we'd put in changes a half-hour before, and we just had no idea how audiences would respond. Were they there to be supportive, were they there for a train-wreck? Would there be technical mishaps? We didn't have a clue.

But, in fact, the audience was there to support us — they were there, rooting for us — and at curtain-call, the crowd went crazy, and the cast went crazy, and we all sort of stumbled out of the theatre in a semi-daze…right into a huge Spidey street party by the stage door, which was sort of surreal (and which still happens, by the way, pretty much every night, autograph-seekers, kids and grown-ups dressed as Spider-Man, it's fantastic).

I was at a bar later that night, celebrating with Chase Brock, and I got an e-mail from Jeremiah Harris, one of the producers. Short message. It said, "I'm on a cloud." I was like, "Totally."