There are flop musicals that cause those who remember them to evince regret over how far short their creators fell of their admirable goals. Other flops cause fans to speak fondly of a wonderful score. Certain flops provoke tirades from those horrified at such utter incompetence... But no matter what the degree of awfulness, there's no use denying that flops exert a perverse fascination. —Ken Mandelbaum, Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops.
That quote kicks off "Not Since Hunchback," a feature from the Dec 17, 1998 issue of The Stranger where an angry cast member published bits of his production journal from the magnificent musical flop by producer/writer/composer/director/star C. Rainey Lewis. (Nobody should be the producer/writer/composer/director/star of anything. Unless they're Orson Welles. And sometimes not even then.)
Last night, survivors of Hunchback and devotees of its horribleness gathered at Re-bar to watch some clandestine footage of the musical shot 12 years ago and relive the wincing. More about that night in this week's theater column.
This weekend, New York Post published a stew of reporting and gossip about the doom hovering over Julie Taymor's Spider Man, a show that promises to be the most expensive bomb in Broadway history.
The legendary Broadway producer—and legendary crisis-manager—Tony Adams died early in the process, leaving the show to his lawyer, who had never produced anything but harbored secret ambitions to fill his client's shoes. Things started getting out of control, especially the budget. For awhile, Taymor was considering building an entire Broadway theater just to house the thing. Somebody evidently talked her off that ledge.
Glen Berger, who's never written a musical, was hired to write it. Bono, who's never composed a musical, was hired to compose it. And any producer who knows his ass from his elbow is staying far away—to break even, the show will have to sell out every seat, every night, for five years. But Berger and Taymor are soldiering on:
The show starts off with Mary Jane, Peter Parker’s girlfriend, dangling from the Brooklyn Bridge, according to several people who’ve read the script. As Spider-Man tries to save her, a female villain called Arachne, created by Taymor and Berger, flies in and weaves a web throughout the theater with the help of a dozen other flying creatures.
Arachne is just one of Spidey’s Broadway baddies. He also battles, atop the Chrysler Building and various iconic NYC settings, the Green Goblin, Carnage, Electro, Rhino, Swarm, Lizard and Swiss Miss, another villain created by Taymor and Berger. Swiss Miss has rotating knives and corkscrews for limbs.
While the script is full of exciting action scenes, the plot is “pretty incomprehensible,” said one reader.
Michael Cohl, a rock promoter, has taken over the show at Bono's urging. He, at least, has some stage experience—he produced The Lord of the Rings in Toronto which, at $30 million, was the most expensive musical in history (until Spider Man). And it flopped.
Now one of the major investors is "Jeremiah J. Harris, who’s billed as a producer. Harris owns the scene shop where “Spider-Man” is being built. He invested in the show because he’s owed so much money that his company might be ruined if the show doesn’t open, sources say."
"Swiss Miss?" Desperate survival investors? The most expensive musical in Broadway history and nobody at the top with Broadway experience, except a director notorious for her cost overruns? What could possibly go wrong?
Alan Cumming, cast as one of the villains, has wisely bowed out, citing "scheduling problems."
Better get your tickets early. And read the rest of the Post article here.