What new webs theatre will weave

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The Independent Culture

Is it a play? No. Is it a film? Uh-uh. Is it an opera? No way. It's Spider-Man: the Musical, coming to a movie-house on Broadway in February next year, with music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge from U2. How exactly the producers plan to represent, on-stage, our arachnoid hero hurtling down the canyons of Manhattan skyscrapers, while squirting gooey web-strings from his wrist, is anyone's guess – but once again we're amazed by the adaptability of the musical-theatre form.

Spider-Man isn't alone in heading for the greasepaint and the orchestra stalls. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis's pitiless study of serial murder and sadistic misogyny among 1980s New York bond dealers, is scheduled for the full musical monty, although turning the book's notorious rat-in-the-vagina scene into a song will tax the imagination of the most resourceful lyricist. Ugly Betty, the hit American TV show about an unglamorous young woman with dental braces working for a shrill and shallow fashion magazine, is an obvious case for musical treatment, being essentially Hans Anderson's The Ugly Duckling. But what do we make of news that Perez Hilton, of the well-known gossip website, will get the spotlight-and-jazz-hands treatment any day now in Perez Hilton Saves the Universe (Or At Least the Greater Los Angeles Area) at the New York International Fringe Festival.

We shouldn't be surprised. Musical theatre has always dealt in grossly inappropriate subjects. John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, one of the first, is set in and around Newgate Prison, and explores the struggle between two women for the hand of Macheath, a highwaymen: shocking stuff for 1728. The first-ever Broadway musical, in 1866, The Black Crook, concerned a scheming, love-rat count, a magician in league with the Devil and a fairy queen masquerading as a bird. Not quite The Sound of Music, was it? The operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan, in which for then first-time songs advanced the story in a dramatic unity, delved into the theatrically untilled fields of medieval Japanese politics and modern fin de siècle aestheticism. All were wildly successful.

Why did we ever think musicals don't suit some subjects? Who could have predicted that a musical drama about teen delinquents and racial tension would be the smash hit that was West Side Story?

Who would put up millions of dollars to back a musical about the career of a forgotten, South American dictator's wife? Or for an all-caterwauling musical based on TS Eliot's poetry for children? Or a laugh-a-minute extravaganza about monstrous plants, in The Little Shop of Horrors? Or the nasty story of a personal grooming consultant who cuts his clients' throats and sells their bodies to be made into pies? Who knew you could have a successful musical with lots of naked cast members singing about a sign of the zodiac?

It's surprising to hear that Shrek: the Musical flopped in America. A song'n'drama evening about a hideous ogre winning the love of an occasionally hideous princess in an enchanted landscape sounds entirely conventional.

The lunatic-fringe musical of the future will have to look in hitherto un-thought-of territories. Bring on Darwin! The Origin of Species Musical, with its show-stopping number "Things Can Only Get Better." Stand by for University Challenge: the Musical, in which lovelorn swot Gail Trimble sings of her passion for Matthew Yeo of Manchester University, who lives in the team panel directly above her in an enormous television screen...

John Walsh

Want pristine pecs? Get ready to suffer, boys

Modern man has been girdled by "mirdles", made up with "manscara" and waxed to within an inch of his – well, a lot. Now, the latest shortcut to a new you – Man Spanx. Inspired by the bulge-busting underwear made by the US firm Spanx (which has ironed out wobbly bits belonging to Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah), an Australian firm is launching a body-shaping vest for men.

I managed to get my hands – and my less-than-chiselled (if not flabby) torso – on an Equmen Core Precision Undershirt a week before they go on sale at Selfridges. Will the shirt, which uses "helix-mapping technology" (fancy elastic, as far as I can tell) to "streamline the body", give me Pitt-like pecs or an instant six-pack?

First, I have to get the thing on; wrestling it over my shoulders requires the skills of a contortionist. Once in, I feel constricted. Equmen is marketing the shirts to the sporty rather than portly male – check out the website models – but the walk back to my desk leaves me breathless.

Selfridges will hope the shirts catch on, but chaps who have "moobs", a "muffin top" or a "menopaunch" (respectively man-breasts, love handles and a gut) will have to discover for themselves if they will beat the bulge. I notice an improvement in posture, but I'm starting to sweat. I decide I'll suffer no more in the name of vanity, and retreat to the gents to change (via the canteen for some cake).

Simon Usborne

Why chocolate is hot right now

Cadbury has recorded a leap in profits. There is nothing quite like the badness of a Crème Egg to ease one through calamitous times. But this must come as a blow to purveyors of organic, gold-leaf-flecked, single-source "posh chocolate", a product symbolic of the mid-Noughties addiction to everyday luxury. Says Cadbury boss Todd Stitzer: "Chocolate sales are holding up. People stock up the larder and stay at home." Maybe Hit & Run's sugar comedown is just making us ratty, but, that's a hellishly unflattering picture you paint.

The little Goldenballs pill

It is the ultimate, and perhaps inevitable, brand tie-in for the man we have come to know as Goldenballs – and it certainly seems to be popular on the internet. But David Beckham is apparently not terribly pleased by the latest adverts for the Chinese anti-impotence drug USA Selikon, in which a badly-dubbed Chinese voiceover says: "It's the secret weapon with which I can satisfy Victoria." Neither he nor the company's other ad stars – Keanu Reeves and Sean Connery – gave permission for their image to be used. It's probably safe to say this is not the thrust of Brand Beckham's future plans.

Jamie Merrill