Saturday 15 December 2018

George Byrne: Bono's Spider-Man, a musical misfire doomed from the start

THE connection between Dublin bands formed during the punk era and one of Marvel Comics' most enduring superheroes goes back quite a long way.

Back in the late 70s, legendary Navan Road outfit The Fabulous Fabrics regularly performed the theme tune from the Spider-Man cartoon series and on one occasion the stage at a school hall gig was adorned by two inflatable Spidey figures prior to the band kicking into the tune.

Trust Bono to pilfer yet another idea from rock'n'roll's glorious past.


Okay, I'll grant you that there's a slight difference between a pair of blow-up toys purchased for a quid from a novelty shop in Wexford Street and the most expensive Broadway musical of all time but one would still have to question just why Bono and the Edge felt the urge to become involved with Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark in what's been a catastrophe from the beginning and still hasn't even officially opened yet.

Given the ease with which Bono became the go-to photo-op guy for any crackpot president looking for a bit of cred, it must have seemed like a jolly lark to branch out into one of the most sacred and hard-to-crack branches of American showbusiness. Big mistake.

Apart from its opening being delayed for the better part of a year, which pushed the budget well over the $80m mark, the eventual previews were nothing short of a disaster.

New York health-and-safety officials came down on the show like a ton of bricks after several cast members were injured in rehearsals, one preview was help up for 15 minutes while Spider-Man dangled helplessly on a wire above the audience, many of whom were braying with laughter after the fashion of punters watching Springtime For Hitler.

The New York Times and LA Times absolutely savaged the musical, citing the complete misjudgment of the musical theatre form and noting the lack of a single memorable song in Bono and the Edge's score.

One major flaw behind Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is just who the hell its target audience is.

The once-a-year coach trippers to Broadway tend to be a tad on the elderly and conservative side and unlikely to be well-disposed to bombastic, tuneless stadium rock while the comic book geeks are a very strange lot and highly protective of their superheroes' legacies.

The inclusion of a 'Geek Chorus' explaining the action is hardly likely to mollify this demographic, and with the recent failure of The Green Hornet and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World at the cinema box-office, the notion that a largely computer-savvy crowd would actually leave their keypads to go to a theatre is optimistic to the point of lunacy.


Oddly enough, the musical did top the box-office in its first week largely due to more expensive tickets and the fact that the novelty value of the bad press stirred the interest of people who could a) afford it and b) wanted to see for themselves just how bad a Broadway musical could be.

Alas, the 'so bad it's good' angle only works for so long but at least Bono and the Edge have the U2 brand to fall back on and can dismiss this diversion as a minor, if very expensive, folly.

Spider-Man on stage? The Fabulous Fabrics had the right idea.

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