Tonight, the comic book web slinger finally faces the music when Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark makes its long-anticipated official opening on Broadway. Since preview performances began November 28, 2010, the mega-budgeted tuner has faced technical glitches, performer injuries, unsanctioned reviews, the replacement of its marquee director, The Lion King‘s Julie Taymor, and a major script overhaul accomplished during an unprecedented three dark weeks of rehearsal. (The New York Times today featured a very revealing and humble interview with composers Bono and The Edge that is a fascinating look behind the scenes.) Now, to what must be extreme joy from the steadfast cast and crew, the show has been frozen (i.e. no more changes) and all the chatter can be about the merits of what is on stage.
What is on stage? I haven’t seen it yet but Entertainment Weekly posted a list of changes in the script and score, all new since it reopened to preview audiences under replacement director, Philip William McKinley. The big question is, when reviews hit after the performance tonight, can Spider-Man stage the kind of heroic comeback that usually only happens in action movies?
Rising above bad buzz and killer technical issues isn’t unheard of in the theater biz. For inspiration, let’s look at the top three recent Broadway comeback tales:
3. Titanic: The Musical: Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s Ship of Dreams crashed onto Broadway in 1997 with a tilting set that stopped the show (literally), delayed previews (I saw one where the Act 1 closing image consisted of a stagehand walking center stage and dropping a model of the ship into place…and it was sort of magical in its low-tech weirdness) and uninspiring reviews. Whether through a drafting effect caused by the film smash, the encouragement of cheerleader Rosie O’Donnell or the glow from performances by soon-to-be stars Brian d’Arcy James and Victoria Clark, the show navigated through the dangers, ran for a very respectable two years and won Best Musical at the Tony Awards. Sail on, indeed.
2. Next to Normal: After a limited Off-Broadway run that saw mixed reviews, the Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey rock musical about a Mom struggling with mental illness looked like it would go down as a noble effort by a striking new writing team with some passionate fans who’d pass it around like a cult classic. One of those fans, though, was producer David Stone who decided the journey wasn’t done and made the unusual decision to take the show back out of town for rewrites. Following a successful relaunch at Arena Stage in D.C., the show returned to New York for a Broadway run, ecstatic reviews and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Not bad at all for a piece I saw in 1998 when it was a ten-minute musical about electroshock therapy called Feeling Electric.
1. Chicago: In its initial 1975 run, Kander and Ebb’s gun moll masterpiece did solid business but was overshadowed in reviews, at the box office, with Tony voters and in the history books by a rival which opened the same year, A Chorus Line. What a difference a few decades make. The 1996 revival of Chicago directed by Walter Bobbie swept the Tonys, has spawned countless international companies and is soon to pass the original Chorus Line on the list of longest-running shows of all time. (Let’s not even mention which one made a better movie.) Now, who’s the one singular sensation?