Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Not So High Flying Ending for Broadway’s “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark”

In case you missed it, this past weekend was the final performance of “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark” on Broadway. If you are a really long-time reader of entreVIEW, you may recall in one of my first posts ever that I wondered how the entrepreneurs involved in the development of this show were able to raise approximately $75 million for such a troubled production. 

I speculated way back in March of 2011 that, as the most expensive show in Broadway history, it would be difficult for a production like this ever to recoup such a large amount of capital. Of course, I would have had to eat my words if it turned into a mega hit like “Wicked,” which has grossed more than $3.2 billion worldwide and just broke the Broadway record for receipts by grossing over $3 million in one week, or “Phantom of the Opera,” which—even though I don’t even think it’s all that great—is the most successful piece of entertainment of any form (think movie, video game, etc.) of all time with over $5.6 billion in grosses and a slew of interesting facts and figures to go with its success.

Before you label me as the next Nostradamus, let me start with the “good news” for fans of “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark”:

It was the fastest show in Broadway history to reach one million audience members.
Until it was recently surpassed by “Wicked,” it had the record for the highest single-week gross of any show in Broadway history and broke the single-week attendance record.  

Now for the bad news—even with a run (including the longest preview period ever) of over three years, the show has lost about $60 million and several investors admit they haven’t seen a penny of their investment and plan to write it off. Even though it survived for three years, certainly enough to ensure that it doesn’t land on Joe Allen's "wall of shame" for the biggest Broadway flops, it continued to experience plenty of problems (lawsuits, injuries, etc.) even during the last year.

The show is now reportedly bound for life in Las Vegas but, given the added costs of mounting a new production of a show that many, including me, didn’t think was great, it doesn’t seem any more likely that the bet in Vegas will pay off previous losses than the odds of consistently beating the house at a Vegas casino.

I can think of many entrepreneurs who, though less successful in raising capital than the “Spider-Man” producers, undoubtedly gave their investors a better chance to earn some return on their investment. It certainly isn’t clear to me that investing in a Broadway musical (even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom” sequel, “Love Never Dies,” was a flop) isn’t riskier than taking a bet on the next great information technology or medical device developments.

Time will tell if the tangled web of this musical can fly higher in the Entertainment Capital of the World.

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