Broadway Should Encourage Risk Tolerance of Innovative Shows

If you missed it, last week the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark announced that the show is closing on Broadway and moving to Las Vegas.

I’ve heard talk from all the way back when the show opened that a Las Vegas production was in the cards, but the goal presumably was to run two versions of the show, not to move it. I think the Vegas show makes a lot of sense and will be extremely popular. Vegas theaters have shown a willingness to build out sets and stages for very specific and very unconventional needs, which Spider-Man certainly has. Just check out the stage for O sometime.

Here are a couple thoughts about Spider-Man on Broadway. First, the show was pretty entertaining. The first cut of the story was the basic Spider-Man origin story (with the radioactive spider biting Peter Parker and so forth) wrapped in a narrative device of a Greek myth. I always thought this was a bit of a sop to the people who would call Spider-Man superficial, frivolous or whatever. I also thought this was a big mistake, and in the second version of the story, the show dropped the “Geek Chorus” and the story of the Greek spider goddess and just told the Spider-Man story. If you’re going to do Spider-Man on Broadway, you can’t worry about the snobs or do anything to cater to them because they’re destined to hate whatever you do — and finally, that’s what they did.

And amidst all that, it was still a pretty fun watch.

The second thought I have is that I very much appreciated the attempt at innovation that the show represented. The budget was big, and the financial goals were big. The idea was to put something on a stage that hadn’t really been seen before and, largely, this happened. Getting big names like Bono and Julie Taymor attached to the thing certainly raised expectations as did the huge budget, but so what? There were definitely people rooting against the show, and I think that’s unfortunate. The culture of Silicon Valley shows that risk (and failure) tolerance lead to generally better and better results, but a culture of shaming failure, especially high-profile ones, leads to risk aversion and, ultimately, decline. Broadway certainly would want to try to encourage the former and avoid the latter.

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