Creating a megamusical is no easy feat, even in the hands of U2 megastars Bono and The Edge.
“Easier than we could ever have imagined. Harder than we ever thought,” says Bono, resting on a Times Square hotel bed near where “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is readying for its first preview.
“I mean, easier in the sense that the music came to us effortlessly. Dreaming up the show, the scale of it, the flying sequence, the pop art opera that it is — that was all pure joy,” he adds. “What we didn’t realize was how difficult it is to stage this stuff, both technically and financially.”
It’s been a long, strange trip for the rock duo’s first attempt at a Broadway show. But the end is in sight: Years of delays and behind-the-scenes shake-ups will end Sunday when the public finally gets to see the reported $60 million musical for the first time. The first preview is naturally sold out.
“Is there jeopardy?” asks Bono, U2’s main songwriter and lead singer. “Yes. Because it’s technically very difficult. It has never been achieved before — the kind of scale of what we’re looking for. There may be very good reasons. We’re going to find out. The expense of it? A lot of it was the delays.”
He and The Edge, the band’s lead guitarist, signed on back in 2002 to write the score in partnership with co-writer and director Julie Taymor, the Tony Award-winning creator of the Broadway hit “The Lion King.” The death of akey producer slowed the production for nearly two years while raising money, and the sheer size of the show — enormous sets, a 41-member cast and aerial stunts — needed time to perfect.
“If the rabbit comes out of the hat, we will be, I think, rewarded. If the rabbit comes out of the leg of the trousers, we could be figures of fun for a few days. Or worse. Maybe looking for a job,” he says.
The musical has 40 pieces of music in total, including 18 songs. Only one tune — the glam rocker “A Boy Falls From the Sky” — is widely known, but Bono and The Edge say the show’s music runs the gamut from garage rock (“Dancing Off the Walls”) to choral arrangements. Only four or five are rock songs and the musicians want to dispel the notion that they’ve created a rock opera similar to The Who’s “Tommy.”
“It’s much more varied than anything we would ever achieve or set out to do with U2,” says The Edge. Adds Bono: “There’s big, otherworldly melodies. There’s dance numbers. There’s experimental, avant-garde, jagged metal pieces.”
The music for the show will be performed live from an 18-member orchestra in two rooms backstage. Two musicians from the band Carney will be on stage alongside their lead singer, Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
Bono says only two songs had their start before the project began and the rest were custom created for the show. Sometimes, he and The Edge would come up with an idea for a song, and other times the scene came first.
“We would always defer to the needs of the story and characters,” says The Edge. “It was a fun project and it was in that spirit of fun and just letting your imagination go off that a lot of this stuff came together.”
They hope the experience will unlock the songwriting and expand their vocabulary — or at least shake things up — when they rejoin bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. in U2.
“As much as we’ve used our experiences with U2 to inform the way that we approach writing for this, we think that the opposite will happen, and when we come back to U2 Land, it’ll be with a certain knowledge and sense of new thoughts and new ideas,” The Edge says.
Both men are happy with the final product, layering praise on Taymor, whom Bono calls a “master of her form, a great storyteller and she believes in magic.” He also calls Eiko Ishioka, who did the costumes, and George Tsypin, the set-maker, as “two card-carrying geniuses.”
Bono has been inside the sprawling Foxwoods Theatre on 42nd Street and says that despite the delays, the mood is upbeat, from the top creative people to the stagehands. New paint and carpet have been placed in the theater’s lobbies in anticipation of final dress rehearsals later this week.
“I think even though it looks like there’s a lot of ill will against us, I think it’ll turn around,” he says. “If it’s just spectacle, we will have failed. But if you can be moved, and if you believe these characters, and if Spider-Man outlives his fabulism and you really buy into the myth, it’s a great American story.”