Unlikely Musicals

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th July.

In November this year, the most expensive musical in history might hit Broadway. “Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark” has a reported budget of US$52 million. With music and lyrics by U2’s Bono and The Edge, and under the direction of Julie Taylor, the mastermind behind The Lion King stage show and the musical film, Across the Universe, Spidey on stage promises to be a spectacular production, with plans for the webslinger to soar across the New York skyline. How we can see his lips move when singing is yet to be determined.

With so much at stake, the production has been troubled to say the least. Marvel, owner of the Spider-Man character, has already renewed the licence for the show five times. Veteran theatre and film producer, Tony Adams, who initiated the project, suffered a stroke and died in October 2005 just days after signing The Edge. Two of the advertised stars, Evan Rachel Wood (Mary Jane Watson) and Alan Cumming (Green Goblin), have pulled out due to frustrations with the lengthy developmental period. In August 2009, all work on the show, including set building and preparation of the Hilton Theatre, was suspended when the ledger showed that the budget was US$25 million in the red.

If, and that’s a big if, Spider-Man’s curtain rises this year, the show will have to be a mega-success to avoid it being an expensive flop. My spider sense is only mildly tingling.

Spider-Man may seem like a strange choice for a musical, however, there are several productions out there based on unlikely characters and subjects.

American Idiot, based on the album of the same name by Green Day, opened on Broadway in April this year. Essentially the whole album, with a few extra songs from the 21st Century Breakdown record, the one act show centres on a group of disaffected youths struggling to find meaning in their suburban, middle-class lives. Opening to mixed reviews, the first few months of the production have generated strong box office takings. The measure of success on Broadway is longevity so the jury is still out on American Idiot.

The Toxic Avenger was a trashy, B grade film from Troma Entertainment in 1984. Following the adventures of a bullied janitor who is exposed to toxic waste and becomes a superhero, the film became a cult favourite and spawned two sequels and a cartoon series. In 2009, the rock musical opened off-Broadway (this means that the theatre is located in Broadway but has less than 500 seats) with positive reviews and ran for 300 performances.

Evil Dead: The Musical, is based on the 1981 comedy horror film which starred popular B movie star Bruce Campbell and was directed by Sam Raimi, who would go on to helm two more Evil Dead movies, The Gift, A Simple Plan, Drag Me to Hell and all three (non-musical) Spider-Man films. Following the movie’s premise of four college students trapped in an isolated cabin in the woods whilst an evil power possesses them one by one, the musical is reportedly a great laugh and features what is known as the “splash zone”. The audience in the first four rows is encouraged to wear old clothing as the stage blood from the comedic violence tends to fly into the stalls. Evil Dead opened off-Broadway in 2006 and ran for a year. It continues to dismember its cast to the delight of audiences in local productions across the US, Canada and Korea.

A musical based on a man with super spider abilities may seem ridiculous, but I suppose it is no weirder than roller skating trains (Starlight Express), copulating puppets (Avenue Q) or actors (such as myself a few years ago) prancing around in body stockings (Cats).