Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Superheroes On Broadway?

The buzz the last few days has been all about Spiderman, Turn Off The Dark and the less than stellar preview that ran on Sunday.  It doesn't actually open until January, but by all accounts, unless you were a little kid, the performance was so full of glitches that it was laughable.  Broadway tickets aren't cheap and comic book fans aren't forgiving, neither of which bodes well for the show's success.  I couldn't help but wonder if something like Spiderman is really the best choice for a musical.  He's a web-slinging superhero taking back the city from evil baddies and their assorted minions.  How, exactly, does that translate into song?

I could only find one other superhero comic that was turned into a Broadway musical, It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman back in 1966, and it lasted just shy of four months.  I can't help but imagine a muscled man in spandex, hands on hips, cape flapping singing "Here I come to save the day!" which I know is Mighty Mouse, but it totally works for a Superman musical. Otherwise, Broadway has been humming along quite nicely without trying to turn the heroes of Geekdom into singing sensations.  I think that as much as we Geeks love our superheroes, there are some mediums that just don't work for their stories.

Let's try to imagine what would happen if we took Batman and gave him a musical.  I can see the Joker singing, and the Penguin, and pretty much all the villains because they're crazy nutters and that suits them.  But can anyone picture The Dark Night standing on a building, gazing at the Bat-Signal and singing? Or how about Captain America, or Wolverine or Buzz Lightyear.  Alright, that last one just might work, but you get my point.  There are plenty of properties ripe for the Broadway picking, but I just don't think that Superheroes should be on that list.  On a related note, I just found out that there is an Evil Dead Musical.  It even has a splatter zone warning for the first few rows.  This is a musical that I just might have to see.

8 comments:

  1. I may get mocked for saying this, but of all the comic book characters ever, I think Batman would be perfect for a musical. The character has a depth that transcends interpretations. Would I personally want to go see it? Eh, probably not. But I think it could be good...for a musical.

    As a side note, I really don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that we will one day see a Marvel character in a cartoon musical. Maybe not soon or even in the ten years, but with Disney owning the characters, it's bound to happen. Probably akin to the Tarzan or Hercules movies.

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  2. Mock, mock, mockity, mock, mock!

    Seriously, though, I think the character has great depth and he is probably my favorite superhero, but I just don't think a musical could capture him. Something about the singing just doesn't work. Unless it was all dark and moody, which it could be, but I'm still not sure.

    I think there's a good chance you'll see Disney try a lot of new stuff with the Marvel characters. I don't know if it'll all work, but they certainly have the budget, talent, and experience to pull off just about anything!

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  3. Well spamalot worked as a show I could see Batman working as a musical you have the star-crossed lovers aspect with Cat woman you would need good songs.

    I can see “someday” as a closing duet between Catwoman and Batman and “the Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is another that fits.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h_wi8M0YyQ&feature=related

    “Gee Officer Gordon” also springs to mind as a rewrite of another Westside story song.

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  4. I love Spamalot...but that's based on a silly, crazy movie to begin with, not a serious comic superhero. It's actually on my list of musicals to see.

    I dunno, I guess a Catwoman/Batman duet might work...but I just can't see Batman seeing. Just. Can't.

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  5. Believe it or not, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's .... SUPERMAN" is considered by many something of a classic. Last summer, Dallas did a major, $800,000.00 revival of the show. (My wife and I saw it three times) Hardly surprising, the original production was directed by Harlod Prince ("West Side Story", "Sweeny Todd") and was written by the guys who wrote "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Annie". The cast album has never been out of print and it's revivaled often.

    The show flopped for three reasons:

    1. The show premeried during a brutally hot summer and in the middle of a newspaper strike.

    2. The Adam West 60s version of "Batman" stole the show's thunder.

    3. In the 60s, superheroes were very much considered "kid stuff".

    BTW, the show did produce a hit "You've Got Possiblities"

    One other quick point, there was a hit superhero Broadway musical "The Scarlet Pimpernel". SP was arguably the FIRST superhero - he had a secret idenity, he fought evil, he took insane risks, he wore tights AND he had a theme song:

    We seek him here, we seek him there,
    Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
    Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?
    That damned, elusive Pimpernel

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  6. Actually, it's been brought back to the stage many times. Rather than list it all, for those interested there is an extensive Wikipedia entry on the production history.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_musical

    I didn't think it flopped because it was particularly bad. Musicals fail/succeed for many reasons, the three you listed were definitely a factor in Superman's initial failure. In the end though, a flop is a flop and that was more my point.

    The Scarlet Pimpernel does have THE coolest little theme song. I remember learning that from my parents years ago! Okay, I'll give you that he was his own version of a superhero (although I always thought of him as an early James Bond)in which case you have found a successful Broadway superhero musical!

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  7. Interestingly if you go with "The Scarlet Pimpernel" as a superhero you can't forget it closed and reopened completely revamped. It was not an instant hit and actually did better as a tour show.

    Glitches in previews aren't unusual. From what I here it has some complicated stunts (which is where the glitches happened). I really want this show to make it.

    Having said that, we are watching the Titanic of musicals (not the one which got nominated for Tony's either). This baby is doomed to failure before it opens.

    The problem is the cost more than anything. It is already the most expensive musical in the history of Broadway (by a lot). I believe it is going to cost 3 to 4 times more than Wicked which had one of the largest budgets ever.

    It is also going to have a huge weekly cost just to keep the show running. From everything I have read it will have to sell out every performance for 7 plus years just to break even. Plus, will be so expensive to produce it will have a very limited touring capacity. This is a huge number of years just to recoup your initial investment.

    There are very few shows which can maintain those types of numbers. This ultimately is going to be what kills this show. It would have helped if it was getting a better buzz. When we saw Wicked in it's pre-Broadway run in San Francisco we left the theater thinking, "it is going to need some tweaks but that show is a hit." This does not appear to be the sentiment on Spider-Man.

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  8. Anonymous wrote that the Scarlet Pimpernel was a hit and I went along with that assumption, but if it performed more like what you've indicated, then I don't think it can qualify as a hit. In fact, it then supports my theory that superheroes don't belong on Broadway.

    Although glitches are to be expected at this point, especially with the stunts in Spiderman, the sense I got from reviews wass that it was just way, way more than what anyone found acceptable. I think knowing the budget was huge and the stunts amazing may have also set the bar a little high.

    I also wish this could succeed, but like you said, the numbers alone have destined this to failure. It would have to be an absolute, runaway hit from the start to ever have any hope of making back it's cost. The bad buzz alone has made that all but impossible no matter how good the finished product in January.

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