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

Issue 56 - The Report: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Troubled $65 million musical will need sellout runs of two to three years just to break even.

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.”