What Should Julie Taymor do next?

What does a genius do when faced with a catastrophic miscalculation? Do you give your MacArthur fellowship back? Do you flee your field? Do you look to realize an even grander and more impossible vision (even though this would not seem possible for someone who had an empyrean sum to work with). Or do you retreat, do smaller projects, do imaginary projects, go back to root reasons for your genius and visit the home of your earliest and psychologically most enduring successes – in this case Indonesia and puppet theater? Or do you wallpaper your house, tend to your garden and re-arrange the furniture.

We can read the retreat of Julie Taymor from Spiderman as the defeat of the independent visionary by the corporate artist. From one side Ms. Taymor is being forced offstage by Philip William McKinley, an impressive name that would worry anyone concerned about critical assassination. “Best known for guiding (Hugh) Jackman to a Tony Award for his portrayal of Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz, McKinley also had the pleasure of directing Betty Buckley in A Little Night Music, Phyllis Diller in The Wizard of Oz, Tony winner B.D. Wong and Emmy winner David Ogden Stiers in Peter Pan, and a whopping 342 theatrical talents in 1994′s eighth-annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition fundraiser, which Backstage magazine described as ‘one of the most exciting shows seen on Broadway this season. ‘ ” (http://www.rcreader.com/theatre/cut-from-theatre-cloth-broadways/)

Ur, umm. Julie Taymor. Philip William McKinley. Julie Taymor. Philip William McKinley.

And on the other side, the squeeze play is being enforced by Bono, that once- musician who now fronts a hedge fund and goes to Davos to pretend he’s a player on the world stage. Bono suffered no consequence for the fact that his music was one of the lazy outrages commented on by critics.

Bono. Cole Porter. Bono. Richard Rodgers. Bono. Frederick Lowe.

Bono. Philip William McKinley. Bono. Philip William McKinley.

We can read the retreat of Julie Taymor as a defeat of a woman genius by a camp-meister and a once cutting Edge artist. Two spent males have taken the place of a woman artist who chose to die on the field.

Spiderman’s troubles have largely been washed away by revolution, earthquakes, tsunamis and nucleons gone awry. Spiderman already belongs to a distant era where an injury on a Broadway stage could rival an entire nation’s death throes. The mystery is: How did Spiderman become not fun? The theater process is hard, but it’s not search and rescue business. Well, only if you’re Eugene O’Neill . And certainly not if you’re doing a musical about a superhero that is owned by a giant corporate entertainment conglomerate that can lose $70 million the way a dollar falls out of my pocket.

The way through Spiderman’s Vale of Tears was to embrace failure. Sure, it was not good–even an embarrassment– but it’s an entertainment. A decent show was always beside the point. It was about providing meat for the insatiable maw of merchandising. The Lion King opened the door for cartoonish adaptations and its billion dollar success opened an inner sanctum of unlimited financing. Money was beside the point. People went to see SPIDERMAN. A public with no particular aesthetic axis went to see SPIDERMAN; first time Broadway-goers went to see SPIDERMAN; children went to see SPIDERMAN; the few sophisticates in the audience went to see Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, a theatrical disaster. Together America, kids and legit hyenas could have created the largest audience in the history of Broadway.

And they blew it a second time. Let’s make a work of art. Let’s save Spiderman. Let’s save our franchise. Let’s save Bono.

The producers of Spiderman were inadvertently already given a work of art, one that exploded in themes that were never anticipated. The life and death struggle of a superhero was played both inside and outside the theater. The decidedly non-superhero fragility of the actors was real, unstaged, unscripted courage. The critics were eternal offstage villains whom we could hiss with the relish of a 19th Century audience. Spiderman Down. Would Spidey survive critics, injuries, disastrous finances? Spiderman was the Tinkerbell of musicals, making us all hope against hope for a near impossible resurrection to take place. The audience would have shown up just to cheer Spidey through every painful performance. In perpetuity and in every country.

After reconstructive surgery, no one will care. The thrill is gone. The smell of impending doom has dissipated. Spiderman is a suit.

And Julie Taymor was the hero all along.