January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

They call it the Great White Way, but until recently, you might as well have been describing the audiences’ hair. Not any more. These days, Broadway has become a youthful magic kingdom of movie tie-ins and franchise revivals. Blockbuster hits like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and even the much-feared Footloose (now hauling in more than $500,000 a week) are the talk of the town. But holy hot tickets! Is the new buffed-up Broadway really ready for Batman: The Musical?

Though no curtain date is scheduled, a spokeswoman for Warner Bros., which owns the Batman character and movie franchise, confirms that Batman the musical is in ”predevelopment development.” And according to the New York Daily News, Grammy-winning composer Jim Steinman (best known for the bombastic songs on Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell) has been approached to do the music.

Given the current mood of Broadway, it’s a wonder the Caped Crusader hasn’t attempted an audition sooner. Or is it? Batman’s good buddy Superman actually bellyflopped here 33 years ago. (It’s a Bird It’s a Plane It’s Superman lasted a kryptonite-poisoned 128 performances.) But time heals all wounds, and with the Batman film franchise now in semiretirement (after the critical lambasting given to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin), this might be a good case of Bat timing.

It’s also in keeping with Broadway’s upcoming season. Among the pop-culture touchstones hoping to become a 42nd St. phenom: a London version of Saturday Night Fever that may arrive next year; Urban Cowboy, which is morphing into a musical with songs by Clint Black and others; and a musical production of the sappy Saturday-morning TV series Saved by the Bell.

Still, not everyone is embracing the pop invasion. ”The theaterati say that Broadway has become a tourist museum of glitzy theater rather than legitimate serious work,” says David Lefkowitz, editor in chief of Playbill On-Line. But Jed Bernstein, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, believes Broadway will ultimately benefit from this caped crusade. These shows ”may broaden the audience and maybe get them to see something a little more daring, unusual, or newer.”

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Profits from shows like Batman help fund more original works — and a new Arthur Miller is discovered.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Batman‘s a huge hit that spawn others like Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With Spiderman.

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