Thursday, April 22, 2010

‘Spider-Man’ the Musical: Just Pull the Plug Already

I’m aware that theater people aren’t always completely grounded in reality, but the fact that money is still being poured into the black hole that is the Spider-Man musical (officially titled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, yes, really) is beyond ludicrous. For those not in the know, here’s a brief rundown:

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (hereafter referred to as Spidey) is a Broadway musical that has been in the works for what seem like decades. Julie Taymor—who brought The Lion King successfully to the stage with ingenious puppets and mediocre everything else—is directing, and the U2 boys Bono and The Edge are writing the music. Spidey has been fraught with problems, most stemming from how expensive it is.

Obviously, Spidey isn’t going to be some minimalist production, because Spider-Man has to, like, do stuff, and the sort of technology and pyrotechnics this show requires doesn’t come cheap. At one point construction of the set actually came to a halt because they ran out of money. Financial backers started dropping out, and the opening date was delayed multiple times (and the longer a stage show can’t collect ticket sales cash, the bleaker things get). At last count, over $50 million has been sunk into Spidey, thus making it the most expensive Broadway musical production ever. That’s right; Miss Saigon landed a motherf’ing helicopter on the stage, but still came in under Spidey on budget.

But even as opening night got pushed further and further back, and the budget got more and more bloated, the production team behind Spidey stayed strong, convinced that the show would go on and people would come to see it, mainly due to Evan Rachel Wood playing Mary Jane and Alan Cumming as the Green Goblin. But the thing with known actors is that they are in demand and have other projects to work on. So while Spidey started and stalled and sputtered its way toward opening night, its big-name draws had careers to worry about. Wood dropped out of the show in March, claiming scheduling conflicts. Then just a couple of days ago, Cumming also left due to the expansion of his role on the successful TV drama, The Good Wife. (Note to Spidey staff: “Successful” means the show is running and people are watching it. Just FYI).

So what is basically left of Spidey is an empty theater and several mountains of debt. The show was originally supposed to open this past February, then got pushed to March, then finally settled on November 2010. But now that it’s down two actors—and the two actors that were going to draw an audience—Spidey is basically screwed. Producers need to stop pouring money into this sinkhole and just write Spidey off for what it is: A cautionary tale to overly-ambitious, but ultimately short-sighted producers. Even if the show had opened, it would have had to lucratively run for several years to recoup the money put into it, and that was highly unlikely to happen. Why? Because it’s a friggin’ musical about Spider-Man!

Once upon a time, New York musical theater was filled with shows based on classic literature, operas, and—most daring of all—original ideas written by talented people! But in recent years, Broadway has become a dumping ground for whatever half-baked Hollywood-inspired crap producers think will get tourists to shell out $130 for orchestra seats (because locals know better than to see those shows or pay full price for anything). Sometimes is works out, but for every Mary Poppins and The Lion King, there are dozens more Young Frankensteins and Tarzans. And unfortunately for Spidey, no amount of Bono or cracked-out Taymor puppets is going to save it from its Tarzan-like stench.

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