In 1990, a live-musical tour based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was produced. Called The Coming Out of Their Shells Tour, the show was part live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, part rock concert. The show premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York and was sponsored by none other than Pizza Hut.
It is terrible.
Shamelessly consumerist, and a bizarre amalgam of all the things that made the early ‘90s the early ‘90s, Coming Out of Their Shells is such a strange part of pop culture I can’t decide whether it should be applauded or forgotten. Luckily, you don’t need to watch it to know how terrible it is, because I’ve done that for you. Released on Pay-Per-View and VHS, I went ahead and found a video of the concert online and watched the whole thing for your reading pleasure. Or horror.
The Power of Music
So the story is that one day, the Ninja Turtles decide that music is better than ninjutsu when it comes to spreading peace and love across the world. With that in mind, they set out to spread their music to “all who would listen, dude.” With Leonardo on bass, Donatello on keyboard, Raphael on the drums and saxophone (early ‘90s), and Michelangelo pulling double duty as guitarist and lead singer, the Turtles emerge from the sewers as bonafide rock stars.
It’s a simple premise that sets up the hour-and-a-half long music extravaganza. The turtles come out wearing jean vests and studded leather chokers, and begin jamming out immediately with their first single, “Coming Out of Our Shells.”
It’s not that I don’t get where the producers were coming from — you need to make the Ninja Turtles less ninja-y and more hair metal, but there’s a weird malicious consumerism that lurks beneath the whole thing. Deep down, buried below the abandoned Hasbro factory are boxes of unsold “Rock Star Michelangelo” action figures;m I’m certain of this.
A Real Variety Hour (and a Half)
If there’s one thing I can say, it’s that the Turtles aren’t afraid to mix it up with music genres. The first couple of songs are decidedly ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll, but then, out of nowhere, Master Splinter appears to deliver a weird, Creed-esque power ballad called, “Skipping Stones.” When I say deliver, I mean deliver. The lights dim, the smoke rises, and Master Splinter is giving it all singing and dancing across stage. All the while, the Turtles are acting as his backup dancers, because: obviously. It was schmaltzy and I had to look up whether or not Michael Bolton lent his voice to sing as Splinter (he didn’t).
At some point, April O’Neil gets captured and does a great Madonna-like song about not being afraid. To the actress’s credit, she actually did a pretty great job singing and sounding like April at the same time — which is more than I can say about the Turtles and Splinter.
Shredder Doesn’t Like Shredding
Turns out Shredder hates music. Obviously. His plot involves using a machine that would destroy all the music in the world, and without the hope music provides he can finally take over the whole planet. He hates music so much, he doesn’t even get a musical number, instead Shredder belts out a little rap halfway through the show.
This begs the question: Do the producers of the concert not consider rap to be music? I mean, they must not, because Shredder — who is decidedly anti-music — is the only one who raps in the whole show. I found this as a really problematic association of the rap genre with villainy and anti-music, that I suppose was normal for the ‘90s. Either way, the rap was terrible, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.
I love pop culture that bridges disparate genres. For that, I applaud The Coming Out of Their Shells Tour as it blends together all the fun of theater, music, and the live-action Ninja Turtle films. I, however, can’t help but shake the constant shadow of pizza and toy advertisements that plague the whole thing. Kudos to the actors and musicians for dancing around a stage in full costume. Unfortunately, this sets the terrible precedent of a possible re-staging of the show, only with holographic versions of the CGI Ninja Turtles you’ll see soon in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Only this time. I’m sure everyone will rap, because it’s no longer the ‘90s, and rap is cool now.