'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark' - The Wall-Crawler's Broadway Bomb
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Let's take a moment to remember a time when our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was not a box office draw. No, it wasn't The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That movie might have sucked, but it still made money. No, to find Spider-Man's biggest flop, you have to step away from the big screen and into the world of musical theater. This is the story of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, an ill-conceived, critically-panned, and dangerous relic of the early 2010s.
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark was co-written and directed by Julie Taymor, famous in the business for directing the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King. Musical legends Bono and The Edge from U2 wrote the music. As for choreography, Turn Off The Dark would feature an advanced system of harnesses and wires to perform stunts worthy of Spider-Man.
Despite all of these things in the show's favor, Spider-Man's musical debut was a punchline before anyone even saw it. Behind the scenes, the show was an absolute mess, and everyone knew it. For starters, the score was just weird as Bono and The Edge reportedly didn't know much about Broadway musicals. Producers gave them a CD of Broadway hits as inspiration, but they didn't care for show tunes and instead just wrote what were essentially mediocre U2 songs. Meaning songs not nearly catchy enough to warrant a place in a big-budget Broadway show.
Next, there was Julie Taymor. So, for some reason, Taymor really wanted Spider-Man's Broadway musical to heavily feature Arachne, a figure in Greek myth. The mythical Arachne has nothing to do with Spider-Man, but Taymor insisted that she be a major character, much to the confusion of basically everyone. This and other plot oddities made Turn Off The Dark a lot less fun and more serious than someone might expect from a musical adaptation of Spider-Man.
So, the music sucked, and the plot made no sense. They had a real winner on their hands. This isn't what made the musical infamous, though. That was the numerous cast injuries and other technical malfunctions. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark relied on high-flying spectacle to capture the audience's attention, and this spectacle resulted in broken wrists, broken feet, and concussions. The danger that was Spider-Man on Broadway became such a joke that there was even a Saturday Night Live sketch about it.
It should have been a bad sign that on November 28, 2010, during the first act finale of their first preview, Spider-Man got stuck. One of the systems malfunctioned, and it left poor Spidey hanging over the crowd. Stagehands had to come help get the Webslinger back down to safety, ruining any amount of magic the illusion could have possibly had.
Previews sent the producers into panic mode. When reviews came out, they were not good, as critics panned everything that has been discussed here. Audiences were laughing at the superhero on Broadway, and the prospect of recouping the budget of $75 million seemed next to impossible.
Major changes were made before the show's public premiere on June 14, 2011. Julie Taymor was fired and replaced with Philip William McKinley, and another writer was broad on to help edit the show. The product that was shown to the public reduced Arachne's role significantly and attempted to make the show more fun overall. This version of Turn Off The Dark played on Broadway until January 4, 2014, and the critical reviews were … also not great. Still, they did generally regard the musical as better than its initial dangerous mess of a production.
That said, Spider-Man's musical did have some fans, and Glen Barger, who co-wrote the show's book, had a lot of good things to say about the experience. One interesting point that Barger brought up that often gets lost in any discussion of the musical is that it had great potential to be an introduction to musical theater for non-musical audiences. Someone could come to see the show strictly because they loved Spider-Man but leave with the possibility of being more open to exploring other musical productions. But all that hope came crashing down like some many Spider-Men.
The dedicated fandom and optimistic ambitions could not save Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark from its inevitable fate. It lost about $60 million. To be fair, even if the show was good, making back its budget would require nearly impossible ticket sales. After the Broadway production closed, there were talks of a revival of the show in Vegas. However, this idea and others failed to make any ground, and Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is now mostly remembered for being, as J. Jonah Jameson puts it, a menace.
Top Image: 2010 Broadway
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