Can Spider-Man, world's most expensive musical, spin its magic?

It's written by Bono, and features spectacular stunts, but ticket sales cause concern

It threatens to be the most expensive musical flop in history. Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, starring Reeve Carney, previews later this year before its Broadway debut on 21 December. It has been three years in the making and clocked up a £40m tab, beating even the £12m budget for Kevin Wallace's musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

It is a figure closely watched by its composer, Bono, and producer, Michael Cohl, who are said to have raised cash for the show by tapping up their wealthy friends. Cohl's reputation for organising colossal events, including the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels tour, was so legendary that it helped him secure 70 per cent of the funds.

Both men are putting on brave faces as advance ticket sales dwindle. "The real question for us was: could we write songs that drove a story inspired by characters?" Bono told Good Morning America ahead of the first preview of the score – a collaboration with U2 member Edge called "Boy Falls from the Sky" – a typically rasping U2 effort. "It turns out it is harder to write songs about yourself than it is to write about other people."

Yet even with the backing of one of the most successful bands in modern history and the expertise of Julie Taymor, the Tony Award-winning director of The Lion King, the show has been beset with problems, prompting fears it's destined to follow in the footsteps of notorious Broadway flop Carrie, a 1988 musical adaptation of the best-selling Stephen King novel, derided by historian Ken Mandelbaum as "playing to the lowest common denominator, to people who had never been to the theatre and would respond only to jolts of pop music".

Readings for the stage-version of Spider-Man began in 2007, but production was suspended after it ran £16m into debt following plans for "acrobatic circus feats and unbelievable action sequences", said Taymor, who nevertheless promised: "We'll have performers flying over people in the audience, landing in the aisles and the balconies."

Yet Sally Greene, owner and chief executive of the Old Vic, said she'd be "surprised" if the show wasn't a hit. "It's got the right formula: great special effects, Spider-Man climbing all over the walls," she said. "There's no reason for it not to be popular. I can imagine 15-year-old boys clamouring to go."

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