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Five Weird Broadway Musical Adaptations to Rival “Spider-Man”

Five Weird Broadway Musical Adaptations to Rival “Spider-Man” (photo)

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Spider-Man, as the song goes, does whatever a spider can. Apparently spiders can make the most expensive show in Broadway history. After months of delays and a few flirtations with outright cancellation, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” a $65 million production directed by Julie Taymor (“Frida”) and featuring songs by U2’s Bono and The Edge, had its public debut on Sunday. The evening was not without its share of technical hiccups. But the show is off and swinging now.

Even its creators would acknowledge that Spider-Man is an unusual choice of source material. During a 60 Minutes report on the show, Taymor said the is-this-a-good-idea? factor was the primary reason she wanted to make it. She’s certainly not the first person to see Broadway potential in an property that seems, at least on paper, better suited to other mediums. To wit, these five other notable examples whose theatrical destinies were — sorry, Spidey — short-lived. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just the ones with the best clips on YouTube. So you’re off the hook, legendarily awful “Breakfast at Tiffany’s musical, at least for now.

“Big Deal” (1986)
from the film “Big Deal on Madonna Street” (1958) directed by Mario Monicelli
Total Performances: 69

I don’t know that I ever want to see criminals sing and dance in the midst of a heist — shouldn’t they be keeping their voices down so nobody notices they’re stealing something? Maybe audiences agreed with me, since “Big Deal,” the musical adaptation of the classic Italian crime comedy “Big Deal on Madonna Street” lasted less than 70 performances on Broadway despite the fact that it was written, directed, and choreographed by stage and screen legend Bob Fosse, who directed the original Broadway production of “Chicago” and won an Academy Award for “Cabaret.” Here’s the cast of “Big Deal” performing “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar” at the 40th Annual Tony Awards, where Fosse won for Best Choreography. No wonder why, the dancing is incredible. But I’m still having a hard time deciphering what this has to do with, y’know, people stealing things.

“Carrie: The Musical” (1988)
from the novel “Carrie” (1974) by Stephen King
Total Performances: 5

A horror tragedy about a social outcast doesn’t sound like the place to start a poppy musical but, hey, it worked for “Phantom of the Opera.” A few years after writing the screenplay for the “Carrie” film, screenwriter Lawrence D. Gordon began to envision a “Carrie” musical. Why? In his words, from the show’s official program, “we all thought… that this was a fascinating piece of material. That this little book that sold over forty million copies and has gone through over fifty printings has done so for good reason: that Stephen King has the uncanny gift of touching our deepest fears and fantasies. That the appeal of this story might be made even more powerful put to music — and performed as theatre.” It might have, but it wasn’t. “Carrie,” was plagued throughout production by endless rewrites and its own share of “Spider-Man”-esque snafus. Though “Carrie” has begun to accrue a bit of a cult following online, the show lasted just five official performances before closing, though not before receiving reviews, like this one, from “Broadway Magazine,” which includes clips from many different numbers, including my favorite, the uplifting ballad “Unsuspecting Hearts.” I’ll tell you what those hearts never suspected: getting burned alive by telekinetic fire.

“High Fidelity” (2006)
Based on the novel “High Fidelity” (1995) by Nick Hornby
Total performances: 13

Jukebox musicals are all the rage on Broadway, so why not make a musical out of a novel (and a beloved film) that had about a jukebox worth of music in it? Because when you make the musical you can’t use songs by Elvis Costello and Stevie Wonder and The Beta Band, like Nick Hornby or Stephen Frears did, you have to make your own. That can be a difficult task. Take, for example, “Desert Island Top 5 Break-Ups,” performed as part of a concert in Times Square. If your musical looks like something the protagonists of the movie it’s based on would have mercilessly made fun of, you have failed. Plain and simple.

“It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman” (1966)
From the Superman comics created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Total Performances: 129

Spider-Man’s not the first comic book super-hero to make it to Broadway, of course. Superman beat him to the punch by more than forty years. Or, maybe it’s more correctly stated that Superman’s musical was such a disaster that it took forty years for someone to try it again. By all accounts “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman” wasn’t nearly as ambitious as “Turn Off the Dark” but it did have a dude singing in tights which, really, is still a dealbreaker for a lot of people. This clip is from a 1975 television special of the musical and features a far more introspective Superman (played by David Wilson) than I’m accustomed to reading in the comic books. “Why can’t the strongest man in the world / Be the happiest man in the world?” he asks in song while caressing a lamp and ignoring the pleas for help from the building that’s on fire across town. The most hopefully titled song in the show? “”You’ve Got Possibilities.” The most honestly titled song in the show? “We Don’t Matter at All.”

“Sweet Smell of Success” (2002)
from the film “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957) directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Total Performances: 109

You can sort of see the thinking here: Alexander Mackendrick’s classic New York noir about an egomaniacal gossip columnist (Burt Lancaster in the film, John Lithgow in the show) had a showbiz setting and a plot that revolved around music (the columnist’s sister falls for a jazz musician who the columnist despises). But watch the Broadway cast sing “Dirt” in the clip below. The song is about the public’s insatiable need for sleaze. And I think it’s supposed to be kind of sleazy. But on stage it all looks so quaint, almost a parody of a prude’s vision of tawdriness. Wry, knowing jokes from Lithgow don’t exactly match the bleakness of Lancaster’s stone-faced machinations, either. As the cast circles around Lithgow one last time, they sing “it don’t have to be true.” But it is.

Further jaw-dropping YouTube clips: “Dance of the Vampires” (based on Polanski’s “Fearless Vampire Killers”), “Big: The Musical” (based on Penny Marshall’s “Big”), “Urban Cowboy: The Musical” (based on James Bridges’ “Urban Cowboy”), “Cry-Baby: The Musical” (based on John Waters’ “Cry-Baby”), and a German musical production of “Barbarella” (based on Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella”)

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.