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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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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…