Joe Allen’s, the famed restaurant in the theater district, decorates its brick walls with posters of infamous Broadway flops. Come January, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” will take pride of place in its Hall of Infamy. It will be missed, especially by theater journalists. The $75 million musical has generated headlines and reams of print since the news broke that Bono and The Edge would be teaming up with director Julie Taymor to bring the adventures of Peter Parker to the musical stage. During the show’s three-year run it has become notorious: the record-breaking cost; a succession of accidents, some near-fatal; the almost universal derision of critics; and the volley of lawsuits between the producers and Taymor after she was unceremoniously fired.
Given the marquee names and the classic Marvel brand, the musical’s dramatic offstage shenanigans were irresistible fodder, eclipsing anything happening onstage at the Foxwoods Theatre. Despite all those men flying around in Lycra, the show was surprisingly inert even after Philip McKinley was brought in to replace Taymor and playwright Robert Aguirre-Sacasa was hired to bring some cohesion to the libretto. Up to that point, the book had been written by Taymor and Glen Berger, who has just cashed in by publishing “Song of Spider-Man,” a tell-all about the behind-the-scenes backstabbing and machinations.
What is left to write about this trouble-plagued endeavor? While the producers refused to state how much of the investment was recouped, it wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that it enters the history books as the most expensive flop in Broadway history. The total grosses are said to be $203 million but the running costs are so exorbitant that, as one theater insider said, “I think they will be lucky to get a third of their investment back.”
Perhaps more importantly, the musical has run long enough to be branded. The next stop for the show will be Las Vegas, which the producers are hoping will be more hospitable to its high-flying theatrics. No doubt, as it now rolls out across the globe, the show will tout itself as “the Broadway hit,” the actual facts be damned. At this point, the press could hardly begrudge them that consolation. It is to the credit of lead producers Michael Cohl, the rock impresario, and Jeremiah J. Harris that “Spider-Man” managed to survive at all during the whole sturm-und-drang of its creation. Taymor has since rehabilitated her reputation with the sterling production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” currently at Brooklyn’s Theater for a New Audience, through January 2014. Berger has his well-received memoir. McKinley has his royalties. And Bono and The Edge have learned just how hard it is to put on Broadway musical.
Photo © Jacob Cohl