Ah, the ’90s.
Today’s “sure, that sounds interesting, I’ll go ahead and click on that, whoops 10 minutes have gone by and I am riveted” read is this story from (of all places) GameSpot: A surprising look at the origins of the Coming Out Of Our Shells Tour, a live show in the form of a concert-with-plot centered on an up-and-coming rock band. And who was in that band, precisely? Why, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this tour, which saw audio-animatronic heads lip-syncing to original Turtle tunes, was cooked up in some marketing executive’s office. The idea seems on its surface like a soulless cash grab based in pizza chain synergy (the tour was sponsored by Pizza Hut) and the hope that audience members would buy T-shirts, toys, and those flashy magic wand things you can get at entertainment events aimed at children. Not so!
In reality, this entire endeavor was born out of a desire two “punky little kids” had to change musical theater. “I started out as a musical theater performer in New York, working as a dancer and a singer in musical theater and industrials,” Bob Bejan, who co-wrote the album and wrote and produced the live show, told GameSpot. At the time, though—the mid-1980s—Broadway musicals were a lot different than they are in 2020, and Bejan had the first-person experience to know it after performing in revivals of both West Side Story and Grease. “There really [was] not, other than like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, a lot of rock and roll in the theater like it is now,” he said.
“I wanted to be more than a dancer, and just a performer. And I always thought I had an aspiration for a bigger creative vision,” Bejan remembered. “I wrote a musical, and I had this very strong point of view that popular music was something that Broadway needed.”
So Bejan and co-writer Godfrey Nelson got their hands on a copy of the first TMNT graphic novel, and then sat down and wrote four songs. And here’s where things get really nuts. They went from reading a comic to a budget in the millions for a series of international live tours, all by just randomly cold-calling people and pitching this idea. Seriously:
“We literally cold-called Eastman and Laird and just went, ‘Hey, we’ve got an idea. Can we pitch it to you?’” Bejan admitted. Then in January 1990, two months before the movie debuted in theaters, the two traveled to North Hampton, Massachusetts for their first meeting with the two men that created the Turtles.
“I read an article in the Wall Street Journal [about] Steven Leber, who was going to ultimately be my partner on the producing side,” he remembered. “But I read the Wall Street Journal [that] he was bringing the Moscow Circus to Broadway and to the United States, and I literally cold-called him.”
One call and a short meeting later, Bejan secured the funding from Leber—as well as a seasoned producing partner to help bring their vision to life. “He wrote a check for $50,000 [and] we signed the licensing rights and got the rights to all live touring, music, video exploitation, merchandising,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
“We called up the heads of marketing of Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Domino’s and said, ‘We have the rights to do this show, we want to come and talk to you about it,’” Bejan said. By this point, the movie had now released and suddenly the popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had shot through the roof. So, together, Bejan and Nelson traveled the country, meeting with the marketing departments of the three pizza chains. 10 days later, the duo struck a deal with Pizza Hut.
Like the Turtles themselves, it would seem that Bejan and Nelson had loads of confidence. The article—which is really worth a read—is rich with those kinds of “wow, that really happens?” details, up to and including the fictionalized making-of documentary that tells the story of how the tour came to be (and goes into detail about Donatello as an inventor of weird instruments):
Anyway, the moral is: Sometimes you can just call a rich guy you read about and ask him for $50,000 and it works, apparently.
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