Yet Another Setback For Ill-Fated Broadway Production

NEW YORK (CBS 2/AP) — The curtain will go up again Thursday on “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” after the producers of the accident-plagued Broadway musical agreed to new safety precautions to prevent another fall like the one that left a stuntman injured.

The state Labor Department said it is satisfied the producers of the $65 million musical have made the necessary adjustments.

Wednesday night’s performance was canceled so that the cast and crew could rehearse the new precautions, which include a requirement that a second person ensure that the harnesses used by performers during the show’s high-flying stunts have been put on properly.

The much-anticipated production, teaming “Lion King” creator Julie Taymor with songwriters Bono and The Edge of U2, has had a rocky route to Broadway. Already the most expensive show in Broadway history, it has been plagued by technical glitches, money woes and three other injuries, including a concussion and two broken wrists.

The show has been in previews for a month, and its official Broadway opening has twice been postponed. It is now set for early February.

The fourth accident came Monday night, when Christopher W. Tierney, a stunt double playing Spider-Man, plunged about 30 feet into a stage pit, despite a safety harness that should have prevented the spill. Tierney was scheduled for back surgery Wednesday, his brother Patrick said.

The announcement that Wednesday night’s sold-out performance wouldn’t take place came just three hours before showtime at the Foxwoods Theatre. Wednesday’s matinee performance had been canceled earlier.

“At this point we are satisfied they have put in place the appropriate controls,” said Maureen Cox, director of safety and health for the New York State Department of Labor.

State officials had no authority to close the show but could have disallowed the heart-stopping stunts that make it special. The musical has 38 separate moves in which actors are put in harnesses to go up in the air.

Cox said the investigation is continuing into precisely what went wrong in Tierney’s accident and who is to blame. Investigators said they are looking into whether it was caused by equipment failure or human error.

“We’re also making sure that the actors and the stagehands know that if everything is not right, they can say, `We’re not going to go,'” Cox said.

Some Broadway actors have expressed concern about the safety of the “Spider-Man” cast and crew, given that they are performing acrobatic stunt work that needs to be repeated eight times a week, some of it unprecedented on a stage.

“Perhaps they should have thought twice about what some of these stunts were,” said Marc Kudisch, whose most recent Broadway credit was in the musical “9 to 5.” “It’s not like doing a stunt in a movie.”

Patrick Tierney said his brother would be released from the hospital Friday or Saturday and would complete his recovery at home in New Hampshire. He said his brother is in “as good spirits as he can be,” is expected to make a full recovery and will surely return to the stage.

“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.”

Alan Krach, a theatergoer from Doylestown, Pa., held a ticket outside the theater on Wednesday after the matinee he had expected to see was postponed. That has happened twice to him now. He got a new ticket for a Saturday.

“This has all the makings of a very memorable show,” Krach said. Reports of the injuries haven’t changed his interest, “as long as they don’t fall on me.” He added, though, “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Richie Wood, a 33-year-old administrative assistant who was also at the box office, said he wanted a ticket because he didn’t think the show would be around much longer.

“I don’t want to see people get hurt but it piques my interest,” he said. “I like train wrecks. I would actually love to go in and have them have to close the show” midway.

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.

Accidents during theater performances are not uncommon, especially in shows off-Broadway where stage equipment is being tested for the first time. In 2004 an actress fell through a trapdoor during rehearsal of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway and needed stitches. In 1999, a flying box carrying two actors crashed to the stage during a performance of the musical “Aida” in Atlanta.

However, stagehands are far more likely to be hurt than performers, OSHA records show. Between 1997 and 2007 the federal agency investigated 35 accidents in live-action show business, with at least 25 involving stagehands and technicians.

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A spokesperson for the show, Rick Miramontez, released the following statement:

“SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the New York State Department of Labor have agreed on the implementation of additional protocols which will be rehearsed today and this evening. As such, tonight’s performance of SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark has been cancelled. Performances will resume tomorrow evening (Thursday).”

Ticket holders for the cancelled performance who purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster will be automatically refunded. Customers may contact Ticketmaster to purchase tickets for another performance at the same price with similar locations.

Ticket holders from the Wednesday, December 22 evening performance who purchased their tickets through Ticketmaster will be contacted directly and given the ability to book tickets for a future performance at no cost or receive a full refund.

Customers who purchased tickets for either performance through other sales outlets must contact their point of purchase.

Tickets purchased at the box office may be brought back to the box office during the hours of 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday; Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. to be exchanged or refunded.”

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