1. Great musicians don’t always write great musicals.
Long before Spider-Men started dropping like flies, the show was already heading down a precarious path. In 2009, U2’s Bono and the Edge signed on to write a Spider-Man musical, confident that their gift for arena-ready anthems could just as easily fill a Broadway theater. (And hey, if Elton ”Billy Elliot” John can do it…) But when the show began previews in 2010, its moody, hook-starved score was the first target for savage critics. It turns out that great show tunes don’t just grow on (Joshua) trees.
2. Do hire a visionary director — but don’t write a blank check.
Julie Taymor had already transformed one beloved pop culture property — Disney’s The Lion King — into a Broadway smash, and she brought that same outside-the-box energy to Spider-Man, filling it with eye-popping costumes and crowd-wowing aerial wirework. But as the budget swung up to a record-busting $75 million, the producers failed to set reasonable limits. Though Taymor was fired in March 2011, the damage was done: What seemed like a safe bet (Spidey! U2! Taymor!) is now the riskiest investment in Broadway history.
3. Brand names sell. So don’t fool around with them.
When the show officially opened on June 14, professional reviewers and laptop critics alike panned its convoluted meta-narrative and heavy symbolism, and Taymor’s more out-there additions (a ”Geek Chorus,” the myth-weaving supervillain Arachne) didn’t help. The message from many tradition-steeped fanboys was clear: Don’t mess with our Man.
4. Bad press is still better than no press.
The SNL parodies. The endless scathing news items. The New Yorker cover cartoon of a hospital packed with fallen Spider-Men. It was to be expected after the opening kept being delayed and several cast members were sidelined as a result of accidents (including stuntman Christopher Tierney, whose fall became a YouTube click magnet). And yet, Spidey now packs houses every night — even if some of the audience is just there to see America’s most talked-about theatrical train wreck.
5. The show must go on…and on…and on…
Unlike movies, Broadway shows can’t just open big and bank on DVD sales. Even with its current superhero-size grosses of $1.2 to $2 million a week, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will likely need to run for years to get out of the red. (Weekly operating costs of $1 million don’t help.) Compare that with The Book of Mormon, the $11.4 million hit that made back its budget after just nine months, and it’s clear that Spidey is going to need every ounce of his superstrength to fight off what may be his worst enemy — angry investors.