How the surreal 90s Ninja Turtles Rock N' Roll Musical Spectacular came to be (and make Oprah uncomfortable)

Perhaps it's because I'm a child of the mid-80s and thus ripe for the action figure marketing tie-ins, but I will never not be amazed by the stratospheric rise of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that has somehow kept them in the favor of the public heart. Who could have predicted that a black-and-white, independent comic press could publish an anthropomorphic parody of Frank Miller's acclaimed run on Daredevil from Marvel Comics … only to have the parody becomes its own genre in-and-of-itself, with multiple TV shows and movies and comic books spanning decades, all fueled by toys?

But perhaps the weirdest part of the entire TMNT legacy was the 1990 pseudo-musical touring rock concert extravaganza Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out Of Their Shells. While this happened a mere 6 months after the release of the original Ninja Turtles movie (featuring the voice of Corey Feldman!), it had absolutely nothing to do with cross-promotional transmedia marketing and any such thing. As Chris E. Hayner explains in his epic behind-the-scenes story of Coming Out Of Their Shells, it was mostly just the sheer coincidental luck of different opportunists all striking out at the same time.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Ninja Turtles Rock N' Roll Spectacular—aside from the fact that they inexplicably didn't have shells onstage, despite the literal fucking name of the tour—is just how easily it came about:

Continuing on their quest to figure out how the Ninja Turtles would work as a musical, (co-creator Bob) Bejan wrote a treatment for the show's story and the duo plotted their next step.

"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.

"Bob and I drove up there and told them the concept we had and played them the songs and they said, 'Wow, this is great. Let's do it,'" Nelson said. Little did he or Bejan know that seven months later, their musical would be debuting onstage at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Before that they had to secure the rights. "We were going to have this deal. Surge Licensing, who did all the licensing for the Turtles, told us it was going to be $50,000 for the licensing rights," Bejan said. "And we didn't have that much money laying around."

Thankfully, a solution presented itself. "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."

1990: a magical time when you just cold-call a few people and score the rights to a lucrative property for $50K, and then use that to make weird sexual comments about April O'Neil on Oprah.

Even if you're not like me, and you have no interest in theatrical producing or Ninja Turtles, Hayner's bizarre behind-the-scenes history of the Coming Out Of Their Shells tour is worth a read. Or you can just listen to the soundtrack.

The Weird Story Of How The Ninja Turtles Became A Rock Band And Went On Tour [Chris E. Hayner / GameSpot]

Image via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)