Schadenfreude for Spider-Man?

Rumors started on the street last week that Spidey was in trouble when the multi-million dollar renovation of the Hilton theater was halted.  It was called a “cash-flow problem”, which is corporate for, “we’re not putting up another cent.”

These rumors and even the postponement didn’t come as too much of a shock to me, or to anyone that’s been following the story.  The dramatic suspension of the work even seemed right on target with the Titanic analogy I used in this post.  That pic was plagued with delays and cost overruns.  It makes sense.  Whenever you’re building a product that is three times the size of the norm, you’re bound to run into problems.  Imagine if suddenly someone tried to build a skyscraper three times the biggest skyscraper out there.  Or three times the biggest cruise ship.  Two things are for certain: you’re gonna get press, and you’re gonna have problems.

Yesterday, everyone’s favorite NY Post columnist, Michael “You-Can-Hate-Me-But-I’m-Usually-Right” Riedel was the first to report that the unprecedented production was officially canceled.

So what happened?  Well, here’s my guess . . .

But wait!  In true super-hero fashion, here comes Hello Entertainment to save the day!  Look at this quote that the Producers just gave to MTV, according to BroadwayWorld:

Hello Entertainment is aware of the speculation about the future of Spider-Man on Broadway and is re-confirming that the plan is to resume production shortly and preview on February 25, 2010 at the Hilton Theatre when cash flow issues have been resolved.

So it’s on again?

Hmmm.  Well, ok.  I’m going to try to be optimistic.  I’m going to try, because:

  • There are a LOT of jobs at stake here:  actors, stagehands, box office personnel, etc. and no one needs another few hundred people out of work right now.
  • I think Spider-Man was the only shot we had to breaking a billion bucks this season.  If it goes bye-bye, we just lost what would have been a big big grosser (for a little while, at least).
  • Spider-Man had the potential to bring in new audiences to Broadway

I’m going to try to be optimistic.  I’m going to try.  I’m going to . . .

. . . but I have to wonder . . .

If you were the Producer of Spider-Man and a major publication announced that you were canceling the production, would you make an announcement of your own that the article was BS . . .  to MTV?

Oh, and also, what does it mean if I met a movie producer at a cocktail party tonight and she said that she offered a role in a new movie to Evan Rachel Wood last week and was told she was unavailable.

And then this week she got a call from her agent saying that she may have an opening in her schedule after all.

I’m going to try and be optimistic. I’m going to try.

Because no matter how easy it may be to say, “I told you so,” Spider-Man not happening isn’t good for anybody.

Maybe one idea for the execs at Marvel is to seek the James Cameron-Titanic deal from their creatives.  That’s one way to find out just who is really committed to making this show happen.

I know that if I were one the spiders spinning this web, I’d put my Producer fees and royalties on the pass line just for a chance to roll these super-hero sized dice.

Three new audiences that could come to the theater this year.

Audience development isn’t about education, enrichment, etc.  Audience development is about product.

The education, enrichment, etc. can be what leads audiences to the water, but it doesn’t make them drink. What makes them get drunk on the experience of theatergoing is the product itself.

This season, there’s a show on its way that has the ability to tap into three brand new audiences who may not have been interested in seeing a Broadway show, save for this one.

That show is . . . The Man Know As Spider.

Who are those audiences?




Head on over to Midtown Comics on 40th Street in NYC and look around.  Think many of those guys have even thought of going to a Broadway show before?  The comic book industry is a huge one, and expect a lot of these readers to be intrigued enough to walk up a few blocks to see how their favorite webbed crusader is ‘handled.’  I’d bet money that they’ll be as critical as Star Wars fans were of Jar Jar Binks, but, they’ll still go.  And they’ll talk about it.  And some will like it.  And hopefully, for us, they’ll go see something else as a result.


2.  U2 FANS


U2 has fans in the millions, and since the band came of age in the 80s, many of those fans are reaching that prime theater-going demographic, and have more disposable income than they did when the fell in love with the band (although probably not as much as they had 2 years ago . . . thank you sub-primers and derivatives traders).  When these folks come to town and hear that there is a musical composed by what they believe is one of the greatest bands ever created, they’ll go, whether it’s about Spider-Man or EucalyptusTree-Man.




Size matters.  Whether you’re talking about the Largest Ball of Twine or the Biggest Broadway Musical in history, both draw tourists.  People will go see Spider-Man just because of its sheer mammoth-osity.  It has the potential to be an destination because of its sheer size, not unlike the Empire State Building.  People love to be able to tell their friends that they’ve seen the biggest of anything; The Grand Canyon, The Grand Tetons, people love Grand.  And people may make sure they see the show, in order to be able to tell people that they’ve seen what could be the “grandest” thing ever on a Broadway stage.
A lot of people have been asking me my thoughts on Spider-Man and its $42.5 million dollar budget, which reports say include $7.5 million for the renovation of the theater alone (that’s more than we spent on 13!).  I usually answer by saying that the story of Spider-Man reminds me of the movie version of Titanic.  It was delayed 6 months. It was wildly over budget and ended up being the most expensive movie ever made.  James Cameron was offering to turn in his royalties.  The media said that the movie could mean the downfall of both Fox AND Paramount.


And then it opened and it became the highest grossing movie of all time.


So you never know what could happen, although I do think it’s important to remind everyone involved that the distribution of a theatrical production is just a wee bit different than the distribution of film.


Spider-Man on Broadway is unprecedented.  It doesn’t seem to make sense on paper, but then again, I remember when Wicked was in rehearsals and one of the stars said to me, “I don’t know, Ken, this show is either going to be the biggest flops of all time, or the biggest success.”  We all know what happened there.


Regardless of what happens, Spider-Man has the potential to develop some new audiences for the rest of us, and for that, I applaud their unprecedent efforts and wish them Web Luck!
Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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