GeekOut

Pop culture fans: Ever consider becoming a theater geek?

Despite what most would agree was a particularly rough start in previews, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" seems to be having the last laugh, breaking Broadway records, with nearly a full year under its belt as one of the most popular shows on the Great White Way.

It's the latest in a series of geek-friendly musicals, including the Tony Award-winning "Spamalot" and Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein."

Shows with a large audience in nerd culture are nothing new, take "The Rocky Horror Show," for instance. But a major touchstone for the modern geeky musical has to be "Wicked," which almost 10 years into its run, remains one of Broadway's biggest draws.

Before "Wicked," however, the idea of geeky, fan-favorite genres making great musicals was hardly a given. "Science fiction in particularly has had a bad rap in the theater for decades, but only because it's been rare to have a sci-fi show of great success," Taryn Kimel, with the fan-driven "Spidey Project," said.

"I think there are plenty of shows now considered classic that people likely wouldn't have considered stage-worthy if they only heard a summary. ('Sweeney Todd' definitely comes to mind. Horror is an example of a genre that's become more accepted in the theater,)" she said.

What seems to be even more relevant to the established Broadway community, said "Project" writer and actor Justin Moran, is the fact that geeks in general are more receptive to different methods of storytelling - which makes them natural converts into the world of musical theater.

"I was totally against musicals and musical theater," said Adam Grumbo, who runs the fansite WitchesofOz.com. "I always thought it was exclusively for teen-aged girls, flamboyant guys, and well-off philanthropists. I was hooked after the first viewing [of 'Wicked'], and I've been to dozens of musicals since."

Grumbo points to the posters, autographs, and costumes that litter his house as proof of his theater geekdom, as well as the forums and groups he subscribes to for performance information on the days he can't attend a show.

The theater audience has not just found new fans in geek culture but, "it's expanded from the musical elitists and spilled into the younger generations and casual fans," Grumbo said. "Hanging at stage doors, waiting for your favorite performers is half the fun, there are massive online groups dedicated to musical enthusiasts and fan groups galore."

Tim Curry, also known for his role in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," was lauded for his turn in "Spamalot."

"I think that bridging the gap between general geekdom and theater is an important step to building an audience," said Natasha Collier, who blogs at KentuckyGeekGirl.com.

"2012 will be a very good year for Broadway fans [in theaters as well]. 'Les Miserables' stars Hugh Jackman and ['Dark Knight Rises' star] Anne Hathaway, so it may intrigue those comic book fans."

Patrick Page, who portrays the Green Goblin in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has witnessed that broadening of the audience firsthand, having met many longtime Spider-Man fans by the stage door, after performances.

"They wait to tell you that they've been reading the comics since they were kids," he said. "Some fans have seen it 60, 70, 80 times, and they'll wait to have their program signed."

Often fans tell Page that "Spider-Man" is their first Broadway show.

The musical's road to success included some changes that adhered closer to the comic book, greatly reducing the role of Arachne, a character not found in the Marvel comics, as well as the removal of a running gag referred to as the "geek chorus."

Page is no stranger to characters with a pre-existing fan base. His past roles include the Grinch, Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast," and Scar in "The Lion King."

"I feel a certain responsibility to the audience," he said. "I recognize that they have a relationship with this character before I ever came into the picture and they cherish that relationship, and there are certain responsibilities that go along with that, to never denigrate the character."

At the same time, Page is generally cautious about musicals based on fan franchises.

"I think it depends entirely on the motivation behind the piece. If you say, 'This will be a great franchise because everybody knows this, let's do this.' That's a recipe, certainly for artistic failure, and oftentimes business failure as well."

Even so, as the "geek chorus"-less "Spider-Man" proves, Broadway fortunes are unpredictable, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have some real geeks in your corner.