Superhero musicals and not-so-heroic flops: Spider-Man, Superman and Batman: The Musical

Green Goblin confronts Peter Parker in 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'

The Green Goblin confronts Peter Parker in ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’

Superheroes are always welcome in New York City, whether it’s Peter Parker’s Manhattan, Bruce Wayne’s Gotham or Clark Kent’s Metropolis. Even Captain America and the Avengers team are based out of Tony Stark’s mid-Manhattan skyscraper. So why don’t these fictional superheroes ever seem to mix with New York’s other popular fantasy, the Broadway stage?

Probably the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks “Superheroes on Broadway” is the bloated, troubled musical production, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” previously helmed by Julie Taymor. Its endless series of accidents, budget problems, firings, hirings and months of previews (which set records and inspired a critical mutiny when reviewers, sick of waiting, reviewed the show anyways) heralded an unsurprising load of mediocre reviews when the show finally opened. Taymor, famous for her direction and design of The Lion King (not to mention her Tony award), was fired from the most expensive Broadway show in history midway through March 2011. Her well-known collaborators for Spider-Man’s music, U2’s Bono and The Edge, have not quite disowned the production but Bono publicly stated, “If we thought it would take this long, there is not a chance on earth we’d have done it.” Skip ahead to 2013 and the show is making back its weekly expenses but little else while Taymor, Bono and The Edge are planning a summer court date to fight out royalties and credits related to her firing. If the majority of reviews are to be believed, the off-stage drama behind Spider-Man has been far more interesting than the show itself.

Superman saves a surprised Lois Lane

Superman saves a surprised Lois Lane

Given the circumstances surrounding Spider-Man it is probably no surprise that other superhero musicals have barely made it off the ground either, so to speak. Most recently, the oft-revived It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman played a weekend show in March 2013 at the New York City Center as part of their Encores! program. The show originally premiered on Broadway in 1966 and starred Bob Holliday as the Man of Steel. The original show closed after only 129 performances but is still known for the songs “You’ve Got Possibilities” and “You’ve Got What I Need.” In 2010, Superman was revised and remounted by director Kevin Moriarty at the Dallas Theater Center with a new book by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa. In between the original and today Superman has been revived several times and even made into a critically panned TV special for ABC in 1975.

A scene from the 2011 Captain America movie

A scene from the 2011 Captain America movie

It makes sense that if anyone could make it, it would be Superman. He is invincible after all. So which shows never made it? A combination of unlikely heroes and predictable flops populate the could-have-been pile of rejected super-musicals. Back in 1985 Captain America looked like he finally had his shot at a Broadway debut. According to an April 5, 1985 New York Times article, the super-soldier was headed to the stage with a $4 million budget and a plot involving his midlife crisis and “his girlfriend, a candidate for President, [who] is captured by terrorists and held hostage at the Lincoln Memorial.” Sounds pretty amazing, but it never happened.

The 'Batman Beyond' series parodied the idea of a Batman musical

The ‘Batman Beyond’ series’ version of a Batman musical

Batman, who could probably afford a multi-million dollar musical but isn’t known for his singing, was slated to have a 2005 Broadway show. The creators were composer Jim Steinman, playwright David Ives and director Tim Burton, fresh off his production of Batman Forever. The bat-signals seemed aligned in their favor but the show was not to be. Songs were written and the opening was scheduled but the caped crusader met his match in the guise of fickle Broadway producers. In 2011 a different Batman, Batman: Live, was mounted in the UK as an arena-style entertainment tour that even reached America. The 2012 North American tour stalled in Dallas, TX, and no further dates have been announced. Maybe Batman bumped into the Dallas Superman and Batman lost. Who knows.

Despite their success at the movies, superheroes rarely flirt with the Broadway stage. Considering the heroic effort involved it may be no surprise. That about wraps it up for the major superhero shows who considered performing on the Great White Way. It is too bad that none of them have met with any real success, especially in a city practically overpopulated by caped, masked and spider-bitten avengers. If you ask me, though, it all reeks of a classic comic-book plot: Mysterious millions of dollars, strange flying technologies, back-alley drama, unknown villains and one plucky show that could. Or sort of did.

My spidey sense tells me that it’s going to be a while before we see another superhero musical on Broadway, and maybe that’s okay. In the meantime, while we wait for the Musical of Tomorrow, we should ponder these words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Keep it in mind, producers of the future. Because they higher they soar, the harder they seem to fall.

'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'

‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’

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