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Category:    Home > Essays > Musical > Backstage > Production > Why Spider-Man Cannot Spin Its Way Into A Musical That Works.

Why Spider-Man Cannot Spin Its Way Into A Musical That Works.



The big story that people keep talking about and even joking about lately in the entertainment world has not been about how bad music has been lately or that anyone would pay $300 Million for Blockbuster Video or even how bad the films have been lately.  Instead, it has been the woeful tale of an expensive Broadway Musical.  The ironically entitled Spider-Man – Turn Off The Dark has possibly set some kind of records for accidents to happen to its cast and the endless changes show that no one involved had any idea what they were getting into.


Even now that they are owned by Disney, Marvel Comics is not known for any kind of memorable association with music of any kind, save the fun theme songs of cartoon series made back in the 1960s of their various characters.  That Musicals are a genre of old does not help, but in most cases, they are about ordinary people in ordinary situations and what kind of people they are.  When you make one now, now matter on stage or on screen, you have to reinvent the genre.


On film, the Superhero genre may have peaked, but is far from dead.  When Marvel decided to try to make an expensive Spider-Man Musical, at least their choices madder some sense.  Julie Taymor has a great track record with her Shakespeare films and made Lion King work because she found a way to infuse it with humanity that went beyond the animated feature film, which was not bad.  However, there are even limits to her talent and capacities, as Turn Off The Dark has proved.  For one thing, she already proved she could make mistakes and her film Across The Universe with all of its Beatles remakes, was a mess.  This play’s failures and her departure prove that she knows and understands as little about The Fab Four as she does about Marvel’s all-time #1 character.  She may love them, but that does not translate into good narrative works.


But she is not the only one to blame.  We also have U2 members Bono and The Edge, who have not been adventurous in their work since the Pop album and though they are talented good guy and we know about Bono’s charity efforts, they have had mixed success with pop culture characters.  Their band had a hit in Batman Forever and they wrote the James Bond theme GoldenEye for Tina Turner, but hit records do not necessarily equal the capacity for a Musical.  They have never even participated in making a Rock Opera and this is hardly that, even by their own admission.


Despite the many changes made, the show (which has had dates cancelled) has made plenty of money as people are curious to see what does work and sadly at worst, if they will see someone injured during the performance.  From the many descriptions of plotting, storyline and arrangement of the various elements, it is obvious that this was begun without any consideration of direction.


Of the many elements (not even considering the quality of the individual songs, their placement and where these elements are reshifted to, which is still going on as you read this), the most glaring error which has nothing whatsoever to do with the character is adding characters that never existed in the comics before, are trivial, underdeveloped and especially come from Greek Mythology!  Maybe this would have been an approach for a Thor, Captain Marvel/Shazam! or Wonder Woman musical, but is a disaster for Turn Off The Dark.


You just can’t take Spider-Man as if it were shallow pulp material and do what you want with it.  Yes, the satirical recent hit stage musical of the failed Olivia Newton-John film Xanadu was a big hit, but such ancient mythology was part of the film for better and worse.  But when you do this, then you admit you really know little about the comic books, the character’s history or why the character is constantly so popular.


It also denies the fact tat Spider-man and all the Marvel characters are eventually products of the counterculture, something this play is apparently absolutely clueless about.  The result is that this Spider-Man becomes the opposite of what he was originally intended to be, a down-to-earth superhero with an ordinary life and not some fancy uppity demi-God (like almost all Marvel heroes, he is the product of a freak scientific accident) of some sort.  The result is that the real character is obscured and it also tells us that the producers were afraid that telling the real story would not appeal to people who could afford to pay the high ticket prices that would need to be charged to recoup the costs the show would have up front.  Instead, it has become a joke that will continue to be so for a long time with no one in sight being hired to know what they are doing.  Even Disney (who despite their many big hits of late, has the megabomb Mars Needs Moms to contend with) does not seem to know what to do and it will take more than their marketing machine to save this one.


The history of Superheroes also shows how music does and does not interact with the genre’s characters.  Any movie or TV show with music featuring singers has always implied humor (starting with the 1960s Batman TV megahit series, to the theme of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman) while instrumentals have been the best musical accompaniment to the best versions of the characters with few exceptions.


Back in the 1970s, DC Comics tried out It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman and it was an ambitious work that also failed, though not to the spectacular extent that Turn Off The Dark has.  Few remember or talk about it and the hardly anyone could sing or even hum a song from that one, but it at the very least understood the mythology behind Superman.  We cannot say that about Turn Off The Dark and probably never will.  And imagine, this has not even ‘officially’ opened yet!


Unless they scrap the whole thing and start all over (give to take saving some of the songs and considering designing a theater to accommodate the production) with people who love and understand Spider-Man and his world, this will be a permanent scar on the web-slinger’s otherwise evergreen appeal.


Now we wait…



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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