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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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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