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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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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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