'Spider-Man' Musical Will Need to Make $1 Million a Week to Break Even

The action stopped five times during the first preview, which took 3-1/2 hours.
The action stopped five times during the first preview, which took 3-1/2 hours.
 Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

On Nov 28, after multiple delays, injuries and the death of founding producer Tony Adams, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the new $65 million musical with a score by U2’s Bono and the Edge and directed and written by The Lion King’s Julie Taymor, began previews on Broadway. And even before the curtain went up — 24 minutes late — the Twittersphere and Internet theater websites were buzzing with anticipation and not a little schadenfreude.

The first performance was far from smooth: The action stopped five times, occasionally leaving actors hanging in midair, and it took almost 3 ½ hours. One audience member called out, “I feel like a guinea pig!”

Spider-Man, which features cutting-edge effects, including actors flying 50 mph and engaging in battles above the audience, is the most expensive musical in Broadway history — more than twice as pricey as DreamWork’s Shrek: The Musical two seasons back. That show cost $30 million and closed at a loss. Spider-Man doesn’t just have to be a hit, it has to be a megahit.

“The numbers are extraordinary,” says Manny Azenberg, a longtime Broadway producer with several Neil Simon comedies to his credit. “That’s being calm about it.”

By all accounts, the show, which will play in the 1,900-seat Foxwoods Theatre, operated by Live Nation, will need to bring in about $1 million a week to break even. But to make its unprecedented investment back, it will need to run at capacity for two to three years, at the very least. Only a few current shows — Wicked, Jersey Boys and The Lion King — perform at that level consistently. And with a reportedly generous royalty deal to Marvel Comics (neither Marvel nor parent Disney has any money in the show) it might be a longer time before the investors see any profit. The money has been put up by a consortium of independent investors, including theater veterans like James Nederlander and Terry Allan Kramer, as well as lead producer Michael Cohl, a rock promoter. “It’s a crapshoot, it’s a long shot,” Azenberg says, adding, “but it’d be nice if they pulled it off.”

Songwriter Bono — who’s on tour with U2 in Australia — has a show-must-go-on attitude about Spider-Man despite all the delays and disappointments. “We’re gonna get through it,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And we could’ve let the production go bang; we could’ve just let it sit there, and our investors would’ve lost money and that. We stuck with it. We’re proud of it.”          

 

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