Over the summer, I took in a few Broadway shows. Some were great (Pippin). Some were “meh” (Vanya, Sonya, Masha, and Spike). And then there was one that was truly an abomination to theatre everywhere.
It was Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.
Let me just give you a taste of this garbage for those who haven’t seen it. It includes (but not limited to), a hip-hop dance in army uniforms; a dance in which everyone is dressed as Spider-Man; a fight scene with a larger-than-life balloon; an incredibly large and pointless baby silhouette; a plastic, blow-up Lizard protruding from a man’s chest; a bumble-bee costume with far too many wires sticking out of it; a giant, god-like spider which descends from the ceiling and into Peter Parker’s bedroom during one of the most unintentionally perverted scenes of all time; and finally, a lounge-singing Green Goblin who finally meets his demise in a "death-by-piano" situation. Oh, and the music is terrible.
This musical was a mess. A big, 65 million dollar mess. And it is currently the seventh highest-grossing musical today, raking in 10 million dollars a week.
WHAT???? That piece of human excrement is the seventh highest-grossing musical today?
It’s true, and I think I understand why.
It’s the name, Spider-Man, which holds enough weight to carry this show. Even I wanted to see it, and I knew it was going to be bad, because I love Spider-Man. And, I really wanted to see someone break their leg during the high-flying action scenes.
So can we learn a lesson from this? Is there some a cappella metaphor we can glean from this 3 hour waste of human life?
We see it all the time. Some a cappella group thinks they are going to be the “talk of the concert,” because they are about to bust out that brand new song that everyone has been talking about. We saw it last year with "Gangham Style," “Too Close,” and “Some Nights.”
You need to understand something. Once the audience figures out what song you are going to sing (and they will within 3-5 seconds), then the allure and mystery of your big reveal is over. Now you’ve got 3 more minutes of music, and your arrangement is not up to par, so the audience tunes out.
As we’ve seen with Spider-Man, the name carries with it a lot of weight. If you tell everyone you are going to sing a Taylor Swift song, you will probably get a lot of attention. As a musician, and an artist, I’m asking you to please give the audience a reason to keep that attention.
Having a great song in your repertoire affords you a very small window of opportunity to distance yourself from other groups, but it’s a double-edged sword, because if you sing it badly, then you’ve just ruined a “great song.”
Now the argument can be made against this opinion. After all, Spider-Man is really, really terrible, and it brings in more money than most other Broadway shows combined. But consider the history behind it. It had to be completely re-written. The original director, Julie Taymor, dropped out. It garnered absolutely no major awards from any academy or organization. It doesn’t have a single memorable song that we all know.
Are they laughing all the way to the bank? Yep. When the show is over, will it most likely disappear from our collective memory, much like the 1970’s musical “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman?” Yep.
So which is better? The monetary value and esteem of having a great name attached, or the lasting value of a work you are proud of? Well that choice is up to you. I’m suggesting that if you have a great name, you need a great product to back it up.
Oh, and don’t see Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, unless you want to throw away three hours of your life.