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Comics A.M. | Revamped Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark performing well

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the retooled $75 million Broadway musical, took in $1.7 million for the week ending this past Sunday, which is above the $1.2 million the producers have indicated they need to reach to stay viable. The amount made it the No. 3 musical for the week, after Wicked and The Lion King. [Associated Press]

Legal | Robert Corn-Revere, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s general counsel, discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. EMA, which sought to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. He notes that the court drew upon the history of comic book censorship in reaching its conclusion to reject the ban: “Citing the amicus brief filed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, it noted the crusade against comics led by Dr. Frederic Wertham and observed that it was inconsistent with our constitutional traditions. The Court traced the history of censorship that targeted various media directed toward the young and held that restricting depictions of violence could not be justified under established principles of First Amendment law.” [CBLDF]

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Comics A.M. | Borders to name bidder; Peanutweeter taken down

Borders

Retailing | Bankrupt bookseller Borders Group said in court papers filed Friday that it will name a stalking-horse bidder by July 1, with an eye toward completing the sale of all of its assets by the end of July. The Detroit News spotlights the two private-equity firms that have placed bids to buy at least a majority of the book chain’s 416 remaining stores: Phoenix-based Najafi Cos., which owns the Book of the Month Club, Columbia House and BMG; and Los Angeles-based Gores Group — the likely stalking-horse bidder — whose investments include Alliance Entertainment and Westwood One. [Reuters, The Detroit News]

Legal | Peanutweeter, a blog that combined frames from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips with real, out-of-context tweets, has been taken down by Tumblr as the result of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint from Iconix Brand Group, which acquired a majority stake in the Peanuts assets last year. One blogger, however, argues the blog should be considered fair use. [RIPeanutweeter, Boing Boing]

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Conan O’Brien reimagines Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Theater critics and even Sesame Street have had their say on the long-troubled musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which finally — finally! — opened on Tuesday. And then Conan O’Brien took his turn, examining the assessment by Ben Brantley of The New York Times that the revamped $70-million production is suitable only for “a less-than-precocious child of 10 or so.”

O’Brien reimagines a scene from the show an elementary-school nutrition play that takes a disturbing turn about the time a G-string clad Green Goblin makes an appearance waving around an enormous banana and carrot. And then things get worse …

Comics A.M. | Comic sales fall 11% in May; CBLDF joins fight over Utah law

Fear Itself #2

Publishing | May marked the worst month of the year for the direct market since January as sales of comic books and graphic novels fell 11.21 percent versus May 2010. Chart watcher John Jackson Miller chalks up the decline to a combination of retailers ordering more Free Comic Book Day titles than “for-profit” books and publishers’ summer events heating up a little later this year. Marvel led Diamond Comic Distributors’ list of top comics for the month with Fear Itself #2, followed by the first issue of DC’s Flashpoint. Avatar topped the graphic novel chart with Crossed 3D, Vol. 1. [The Comichron]

Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has joined a coalition that includes booksellers, media companies and the ACLU of Utah in seeking to permanently stop enforcement of a 2005 Utah statute that would regulate Internet speech that some consider “harmful to minors,” including works of art, graphic novels, information about sexual health and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. The law has not gone into effect because Utah consented to a temporary injunction until the case can be decided. [press release]

Awards | A reminder: Online voting ends today for the 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. The winners will be announced July 22 during Comic-Con International in San Diego. [Eisner Awards]

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Comics A.M. | Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark makes final changes

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | As of last night’s preview performance, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is officially “frozen,” meaning there will be no more script rewrites, new lyrics or altered choreography before the $70-million musical opens on Tuesday. In fact, the producers are confident enough to invite critics to attend previews over the next three nights, with their reviews to be published after the opening. “The show, in my opinion, is bulletproof at this point,” Reeve Carney, who stars as Peter Parker, told The New York Times. “I mean, as bulletproof as anything can be. And we want to do right by the people who stood by us, to help this show be seen for what it is.”

However, it’s not all good news for opening night. The New York Post reports that producers hoped  the Empire State Building would be lit in red and blue on Tuesday, but the landmark’s owners would do it only if a change were made to the show: specifically, that the climactic battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin be moved from the Chrysler Building to … the Empire State Building. [The New York Times]

Retailing | Najafi Cos., a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, is reportedly interested in buying at least half of the 405 bookstores operated by the bankrupt Borders Group. [Bloomberg]

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Comics A.M. | Archie addresses gays in military; NYT explains Crisis

Kevin Keller #2

Publishing | We noted in late April that Archie Comics appeared to be embracing cultural and political commentary with its upcoming Kevin Keller miniseries, which features Riverdale’s first openly gay character and his father, a retired three-star general. But now the publisher, or at least the character, is going a step further, marching into the middle of the debate over gays and lesbians openly serving in the armed forces by revealing that Kevin aspires to be a journalist, but only after attending the U.S. Military Academy and becoming an Army officer. “Even though we don’t tackle the specific issue of Don’t Ask Don’ Tell, the goal was to show that patriotism knows no specific gender, race or sexual orientation,” cartoonist Dan Parent says. “While it sounds like heavy subject matter, I tried to show it simply that Kevin, like his dad, loves his country. Being gay doesn’t effect that in any way.” [The Associated Press]

Publishing | DC Comics’ line-wide reboot has received extensive coverage by mainstream media outlets, based largely on the original USA Today article or The Associated Press report. But my favorite piece is this one by George Gene Gustines that turns back the clock to 1985 and attempts to explain to The New York Times audience the effects, and problems, of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the publisher’s subsequent attempts to streamline continuity: “… If the goal was to make the DC universe easier to understand, the end result was the opposite: to this day, fans frequently mention ‘pre-Crisis‘ and ‘post-Crisis‘ as a way to distinguish stories. Twenty years later, in the Infinite Crisis limited series, DC tried to clean continuity up again: Superman’s career as Superboy was back; Batman knew who murdered the Waynes; and Wonder Woman was a founder of the Justice League again.” [The New York Times]

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Comics A.M. | Strong debut for Fear Itself; is Borders doomed?

Fear Itself #1

Publishing | Marvel’s Fear Itself #1 topped Diamond Comic Distributors’ April charts with an estimated 128,595 copies, the highest monthly sales for a comic since X-Men #1 surpassed 140,000 copies nine months ago. Retail news and analysis site ICv2 sees the strong debut of that crossover and the performance of DC’s Flashpoint prequels as signs “that this summer’s big events may be able to reverse the downward sales trend in the first quarter of 2011.”

DC’s Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red led the graphic novel category with about 11,600 copies, followed distantly by Dynamite’s The Boys, Vol. 8: Highland Laddie. [ICv2.com]

Retailing | The bankrupt Borders Group reportedly has been unable to find a buyer for its entire business, which could signal the end of the second-largest book chain in the United States. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in February, and is closing about one-third of its locations. [Detroit Free Press]

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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark returns ‘almost a brand-new show’

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark returned last night from a three-week hiatus “virtually unrecognizable” from the troubled musical savaged by critics in February.

That assessment comes courtesy of the production’s most vocal detractor, the New York Post’s Michael Riedel, who quotes lead producer Michael Cohl as saying, “It’s almost a brand-new show.”

Indeed, it certainly looks that way. As anticipated, Arachne, the eight-legged villainess created by former director Julie Taymor, has been reduced to a minor role (she previously dominated the second act). Both the “utterly superfluous” Geek Chorus — a group of four comic fans that provided much of the show’s exposition — and the Furies — Arachne’s minions who performed the widely panned “Deeply Furious” shoe-shopping number — have been cut entirely.

With Arachne diminished, Patrick Page’s Green Goblin is given a more prominent role. Previously, the classic villain was killed off in the first act, only to make a confusing return in Act II. Now, Entertainment Weekly says, his climactic battle with Spider-Man is, appropriately enough, the show’s finale. He’s also given the only new song, “Freak Like Me”; most of the other musical numbers have been reworked.

Characters like Uncle Ben, Aunt May and Norman Osborn’s wife Emily, who had been little more than footnotes in the $70-million production, have been given upgrades as well.

In short, as Riedel writes, the show now “hews more closely to Spidey’s original comic-book sensibilities.”

However, the overhaul, spearheaded by new director Philip William McKinley, Taymor’s co-writer Glen Berger and script doctor (and comics scribe) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, creates a tangled web of credits.

Critics are invited to attend preview performances June 9-11, ahead of the show’s scheduled June 14 opening night. You can view the new trailer for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark below.

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Comics A.M. | Spider-Man musical returns Thursday; Noveck lands at Syfy Films

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | The $70-million musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will emerge Thursday from its three-week hiatus a vastly changed production, featuring five additional flying sequences, expanded roles for Aunt May, Uncle Ben and Mary Jane, a scaled back (and transformed) Arachne, new songs and a lighter tone. “There is still a ton of emotional complexity in the musical, and some of that original darkness,” says playwright and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who was hired to help rework the script. “But we all also wanted a show that would honor the rich legacy and history of the Spider-Man story: the high school love story, the pretty girl next door, the science geek who is coping with new powers.” The new opening night is set for June 14. [The New York Times]

Publishing | Gregory Noveck, former senior vice president-creative affairs at DC Entertainment, has been hired as senior vice president of production for Syfy Films, a joint venture of Syfy and Universal. Noveck, who oversaw DC’s film and television ventures, left the company in August amid a massive restructuring. [Heat Vision]

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Law & Order: Criminal Intent targets Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

The troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has been investigated by the New York State Department of Labor, lampooned by Saturday Night Live and savaged by critics. And now the $70 million musical is about to endure Law & Order‘s ripped-from-the-headlines treatment.

TVLine reports that an upcoming episode of NBC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent will center on “a high-flying, fast-crashing show” called Icarus, whose director is described in the casting breakdown as “high-strung and larger-than-life,” and “a born-again drunk.”

However, while ousted Spider-Man director Julie Taymor oversaw the production when four actors were injured — a fifth was hurt after her firing — her television counterpart will be at the helm when a performer is murdered. Of course, Taymor isn’t the only person cast in an unflattering light (this is the Law & Order franchise, after all): The episode also features a rock-star composer named Arno who’s secretly bisexual and cheating on his wife.

There’s no word yet on when the CI episode will air. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — the real one — is on hiatus through May 12 while a new creative team, led by Philip William McKinley, makes sweeping changes to the show. Opening night is scheduled for June 14.

Comics A.M. | Spider-Man musical producers ‘stepped in dog poo’

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris, producers of the troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, talk candidly about the $70-million musical — or “$65 plus plus,” as Cohl says — as it shuts down for more than three weeks for a sweeping overhaul. Will the production, plagued by delays, technical mishaps, injuries and negative reviews, hurt their reputation? “It might,” Cohl concedes. “It’s a matter of the respect of those whose opinions I care about. Most will recognize that Jere and I stepped in dog poo and are trying to clean it up and pull off a miracle. We might not.”

In related news, Christopher Tierney, the actor who was seriously injured on Dec. 20 after plummeting 30 feet during a performance, will rejoin rehearsals on Monday. [Bloomberg, The Hollywood Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | Borders to revise bonus plan; Tokyopop reactions

Borders

Retailing | The bankrupt Borders Group agreed to revise its $7.8 million retention bonus plan by tying potential payments for top executives to the company’s ability to pay unsecured creditors. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn told the bookseller on Thursday it must make further changes to the proposal, and negotiate with the U.S. trustee, before he would approve it.

The struggling bookseller says that 47 executives and director-level employees have quit since the company declared bankruptcy on Feb. 16 — two dozen just this month — leaving only 15 people in senior management positions. The book chain had sought to pay $6.6 million to 15 executives, including $1.7 million to CEO Michael Edwards, and $1.2 million to 25 director-level managers in a bid to retain key personnel.

Under the new terms, agreed upon by Borders and the creditors before Thursday’s hearing, the top five executives would receive $4.9 million at most if they recover $95 million to unsecured creditors under a sale or restructuring by Aug. 15. They could get $1.8 million in $73 million is returned. [The Detroit News, Bloomberg]

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Lights go out on Taymor’s version of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

This weekend will provide audiences with their last chance to see Julie Taymor’s version of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, warts, shoe-shopping numbers and all. When the curtain comes down on Sunday afternoon, the $70-million musical will go on a three-week hiatus, during which an expanded creative team, headed by new director Philip William McKinley, will make sweeping changes.

When the lights come back on May 12, The New York Times reports, Spider-Man will be vastly different from the show Taymor developed for the better part of a decade (until her firing early last month) and that critics savaged in February.

The newspaper confirms that many of Taymor’s signature elements will be stripped, including the four-person geek chorus — described in some reviews as “useless” and “utterly superfluous” — and “Deeply Furious,” a widely panned number in which the eight-legged villainess Arachne goes shopping for shoes with her minions.

Green Goblin’s Act I death has been cut — the classic villain previously died in the first act, only to return, to some confusion, in the second — and his role expanded. However, Arachne, a character created by Taymor in 2002, as expected doesn’t fare as well. Inspired by Greek mythology, the villainess was depicted as responsible for Peter Parker gaining his powers, and came to dominate Act II. Now Arachne has been reduced to a kind of guardian angel.

According to The Times, the new creative team aims to make Spider-Man less dark and more family-friendly in an effort to fill the Foxwoods Theatre. While the show as grossed about $1.3 million a week in its unprecedented preview period, that’s barely enough to cover production costs. And the musical needs to be at least moderately successful on Broadway to ensure future productions in Las Vegas and London.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to lose Geek Chorus in overhaul

Patrick Page as Green Goblin and Reeve Carney as Peter Parker in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

The sweeping changes to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will include the elimination of one of Julie Taymor’s signature elements, the widely panned Geek Chorus.

Based on the troubled musical’s four original creators — Taymor, her co-writer Glen Berger, Bono and the Edge — the geeks are four comic-book fans who make up the plot as the story unfolds, serving as a device to cover the show’s complicated scenery changes while doling out chunks of exposition. As practical as their purpose might be, they were described by some critics as “useless” and “utterly superfluous.”

The New York Times reports the four actors — Mat Devine, Gideon Glick, Alice Lee and Jonathan Schwartz — were told Thursday night that the Geek Chorus will be cut when the $70-million production goes on hiatus on April 18. The newly expanded creative team, led by director Philip William McKinley, Berger and script doctor (and comics writer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, apparently has found a way to execute scenery changes without the aid of the chorus. According to Broadway World, there’s no word yet on what will happen to the performers once their roles are dropped.

The loss of the geeks is only the first in what’s expected to be a wave of major changes made in the wake of Taymor’s departure on March 9. Green Goblin’s confusing story arc will reportedly be clarified, the unpopular “Deeply Furious” number cut, and the role of the eight-legged villainous Arachne reduced if not eliminated entirely (The Times says the character, another of Taymor’s signature creations, “is expected to remain, for now, though as a scaled-back character”). Bono and the Edge are also writing at least two additional songs.

In another change, Broadway World confirms that Chase Brock is replacing original choreographer Daniel Ezralow, a Taymor loyalist who designed the show’s complex flying sequences.

Spider-Man will return from its three-week hiatus on May 12, and continue preview performances until the scheduled opening night on June 14.

Another performer injured in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

T.V. Carpio

The beleaguered Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was dealt another blow Tuesday with the announcement that T.V. Carpio, who plays the villain Arachne, will be sidelined for the next two weeks following an injury sustained during one of the show’s many fight scenes.

According to The New York Times, Carpio was hurt during a March 16 preview performance in an aggressive Act II showdown between the eight-legged Arachne and Peter Parker (played that evening by Matthew James Thomas). Although the newspaper reports the nature of the injury was not disclosed, it’s believed to be a neck injury; Broadway World contends it’s “whiplash.”

Understudy America Olivo has been performing as Arachne, and will continue in the part until Carpio’s return.

Carpio is the fifth performer injured in a production plagued by difficulties. In fact, she took over the role of Arachne from original actress Natalie Mendoza, who left Spider-Man in late December after she suffered a concussion during the problem-filled first preview.

The $70-million musical, by far the most expensive and technically ambitious show in Broadway history, has had a tumultuous month — which is really saying something, considering its rocky past: In the wake of overwhelmingly negative reviews and rumors of behind-the-scenes tensions, director Julie Taymor stepped aside on March 9 to make way for an expanded creative team tasked with overhauling the production. And just this week a report surfaced that producers are seeking to replace choreographer Daniel Ezralow, a Taymor loyalist responsible for designing the ambitious flying sequences.

Preview performances will be shut down from April 19 to May 11 to accommodate what are expected to be sweeping changes to the show — including a reduction of Arachne’s role. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is now scheduled to open on June 14.


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