NEW YORK (AP / WCBS 880 / CBS 2/ 1010 WINS) – The fate of Broadway’s most expensive accident-prone musical is in limbo as producers try to rejigger their high-flying stunts in time to satisfy safety investigators and reopen.
1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports
WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell at the Foxwoods Theatre Box Office
Producers canceled a Wednesday matinee performance of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” after Monday evening’s 30-foot plunge of a Spider-Man stunt double into a stage pit. Producers and labor officials were to meet Wednesday to review safety measures.
Monday’s performance of “Spider-Man,” the most expensive production in Broadway history, ended just minutes before its curtain when Christopher W. Tierney, a stuntman playing the superhero, fell. The safety tether that clips to his back failed to prevent the spill.
Tierney’s brother, Patrick Tierney, said his brother was undergoing back surgery Wednesday, was expected to be released from the hospital Friday or Saturday and would complete is recovery at home in New Hampshire.
“He’s a dancer. He landed on his feet. If he didn’t land on his feet, he wouldn’t be with us,” said Patrick Tierney, 24, of Plaistow, N.H. “He has a strong body and an amazing attitude.”
Tierney, who was leaving for New York later Wednesday to visit his brother, said Christopher Tierney’s injury has been very hard on the family. As unhappy as they are with the “Spider-Man” production, he credits it with getting his brother “in the best shape of his life” before the accident.
“I have spoken with him and he’s in as good spirits as he can be,” Tierney said. He said his brother is expected to make a full recovery, and when he does, “I’m sure he’ll be back doing the same thing he’s been doing.”
Christopher Tierney, who appeared in the national tour of “Moving Out” and in “Dirty Dancing” in Toronto, is the show’s main aerialist and performs stunts for the roles of Spider-Man and the villains Meeks and Kraven the Hunter. The cable to his harness apparently snapped, said a castmate who spoke on condition of anonymity because the performer was not authorized to speak publicly about the show.
“An accident like this is obviously heartbreaking for our entire team and, of course, to me personally,” said Tony-winning director Julie Taymor in a statement. “I am so thankful that Chris is going to be all right and is in great spirits. Nothing is more important than the safety of our Spider-Man family and we’ll continue to do everything in our power to protect the cast and crew.”
The fall was the latest setback for the troubled $65 million show.
The production has been under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration since Nov. 2 at the request of the state Labor Department, OSHA said. That federal investigation will continue as a result of the latest incident.
OSHA has investigated other theater incidents in New York City, but none in recent history appeared to be related to incidents that occurred during the actual production, a spokesman said.
Most OSHA investigations involving theaters have dealt with accidents during off-hours, such as one during the Christmas season at Radio City Music Hall in 1995, when an employee tripped over footlights and fell 23 feet into the orchestra pit while pushing back the curtain during a pre-show rehearsal.
State investigators weren’t sure whether the equipment, the rigging or the performer caused the fourth accident in the troubled show. Actors’ Equity Association called it human error, but Leo Rosales, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor, said the cause was under investigation.
Rosales said the show’s producers would present the new safety protocols on Wednesday. If the measures are inadequate, he said, the state will not let the show perform the complicated aerial maneuvers.
“If it takes longer, it will need to take longer,” he said of the show’s timing. “We need to be satisfied.”
The musical, which started previews a month ago without benefit of an out-of-town tryout, could be put in jeopardy if certain aerial actions aren’t allowed; it would lose some of its razzle-dazzle.
Conceived by Taymor and U2’s Bono and The Edge, who wrote the music, “Spider-Man” has been more than eight years in the making. It has been plagued by delays, money woes and three other accidents, including one in which an actress suffered a concussion and another in which a performer broke his wrists in an aerial stunt. Its official opening has been postponed twice, to early February.
The huge costs — a 41-member cast, 18 orchestra members, complicated sets and 27 daring aerial stunts, including a battle between two characters over the audience — mean the 1,928-seat theater will have to virtually sell out every show for several years just to break even. The weekly running bill has been put as high as $1 million. (Tickets are $67.50 to $135 for weekday performances, $67.50 to $140 on weekends.)
One audience member who attended Monday’s performance, Brian Lynch, said he knew of the previous mishaps and still wanted to come.
“I was making jokes about it earlier in the day,” said Lynch, visiting from Hollywood, Calif. “I said if anyone got hurt I was ready to jump in and help out. I never thought it would happen, I thought they probably worked it all out. I really didn’t think it would happen like it did. It was pretty horrific.”
The accident happened during the show’s big finale, when the Green Goblin drops Mary Jane and Spider-Man leaps to her rescue.
“But then he just kept falling, it seemed, and then everything went dark and then people, crew ran up to the stage and we heard the girl playing Mary Jane screaming from the pit,” Lynch said.
It is not unusual for Broadway shows to experience mishaps and accidents during previews or out-of-town tryouts, where producers try to work out all problems before bringing a show to New York. Other Broadway shows have struggled with getting their sets and stunts to work during previews, including ‘Mary Poppins,” whose house set went off track in 2006, and “Titanic,” which was plagued by numerous technical problems during a month of previews in 1997. Both were hits.
Last week, “Spider-Man” lead producer Michael Cohl delayed the official opening of the show for the second time, pushing it back from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7. He cited “some unforeseeable setbacks, most notably the injury of a principal cast member.”
The first preview on Nov. 28 did not go well. The musical had to be halted five times because of technical glitches, and actress Natalie Mendoza, who plays Spider-Man’s evil love interest Arachne, was hit in the head by a rope and suffered a concussion. She was sidelined for two weeks.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)