- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - The troubled Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” was struck by its fourth accident in a month when a performer doing an aerial stunt fell about 30 feet, fire officials said.

Firefighters were called to the Foxwoods Theatre at about 10:45 p.m. Monday after the 31-year-old performer fell near the end of the latest preview performance. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital with minor injuries, police said.

Police did not release the actor’s name, but a performer in the show identified him as Christopher Tierney. The performer spoke on condition of anonymity because the performer was not authorized to speak publicly about the accident.

A nurse at Bellevue Hospital said that a Christopher Tierney was admitted and was in stable condition, but would not provide details.

Tierney is the show’s main aerialist and performs stunts for the roles of Spider-Man, and the villains Meeks and Kraven.

Christine Bord of Clinton, N.Y., was sitting behind a perch on the balcony. The actors who fly over the audience stop on that small ramp.

“It looks like part of the New York City skyline … like a building and Spider-Man was up on the top of that … ramp,” she said. “The actress who was playing Mary Jane came off of that at the bottom. In the scene, of course, Spider-Man was supposed to come down and we’re assuming save Mary Jane at the end of the scene but instead he came flying down and he just slid right off the bottom of that ramp into the pit below and came tumbling down into the stage.

“He was being held up by a wire and you could see at the end of the wire there was maybe a weight or something that kind of came following after him,” Bord said. “And then after they both came down, it was just silent and you started to hear people screaming in the pit.”

The production has been under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for several weeks, according to the agency.

“It’s certainly going to be continuing as a result of the latest incident,” said John Chavez, an OSHA spokesman. Chavez would not comment further on the investigation, but said a typical probe would involve inspecting the workplace, interviewing employers, workers and examining equipment and record-keeping to determine whether federal safety standards are being violated.

New York City officials said Tuesday there is no separate city investigation of the production.

“Hopefully, they’ll get all the bugs out,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday. “I’m told it’s phenomenally complex, which is one of the reasons that it’s going to be such a great show. We do have certain laws to make things safe, and we will certainly enforce the laws.”

Scott Fisher, president of Fisher Technical Services Inc., in Las Vegas, which builds the equipment that does the automated and powered aerial stunts for the show, said the rope involved in the accident was clipped to the stage at one end and clipped to the performer’s back at the other end.

He said , so his company was not involved in last night’s failure. But he was able to describe how the rope works.

“The stage crew would have been responsible for making the connection for hooking him up,” said Fisher. “The actor is responsible for making the final check that he’s good to go. It’s sort of like packing your own parachute.

“The move itself is part of the staging of the show. He does a freeze-frame move at the end of the ramp to make it look like he’s going to go forward and go after the girl and the lanyard is what stops him. … So he runs and stops and freezes in a position that you wouldn’t normally be able to hold unless you had a little support from behind him. If that’s not hooked up and he leans forward, he’s going to fall forward.”

Fisher said the rope involved in the accident is not part of his company’s flight systems and that he hasn’t heard whether it was actually a failure of the rope or a bad hookup. But he said it was unlikely that the rope would have snapped: It’s a 10,000-pound line that would be very difficult to break.

A spokesman for “Spider-Man,” Rick Miramontez, said an announcement would be made later Tuesday regarding the refund/exchange policy for Monday night’s aborted performance. There is no performance Tuesday night, which had always been scheduled as a dark night, Miramontez said.

Actress Natalie Mendoza, who plays Spider-Man’s evil love interest Arachne and herself was injured during the show’s first preview last month, posted a Twitter message asking people to pray for the actor.

“Please pray with me for my friend Chris, my superhero who quietly inspires me everyday with his spirit. A light in my heart went dim tonight.”

Miramontez said the fall happened about seven minutes before the end of the performance, and the show was stopped.

“All signs were good as he was taken to the hospital for observation,” Miramontez said.

Maria Somma, a spokeswoman for Actors’ Equity Association, said the union was “working with management and the Department of Labor to ensure that performances will not resume until back-up safety measures are in place..”

On Friday, the show’s lead producer Michael Cohl delayed the show’s official opening for the second time, pushing it back 27 days, from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7.

In a statement that day, Cohl said, “The creative team is implementing truly exciting changes throughout the preview process. Due to some unforeseeable setbacks, most notably the injury of a principal cast member, it has become clear that we need to give the team more time to fully execute their vision.”

The $65 million musical was conceived by Tony Award-winning director and co-writer Julie Taymor and U2’s Bono and The Edge, who wrote the music. More than eight years in the making, delays and money woes have plagued the show’s launch. Three other accidents have injured actors, including one who had both his wrists broken while practicing an aerial stunt.

The show’s massive 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 priced from $67.50-$135 for weekday performances and $67.50-$140 for weekend performances.)

The first preview on Nov. 28 did not go well. The musical had to be halted five times because of technical glitches and Mendoza was hit in the head by a rope and suffered a concussion. Her injury would eventually keep her sidelined for two weeks.

The show _ whose costs easily dwarf Broadway’s last costliest show, the $25 million “Shrek The Musical” _ may be about a comic-book hero, but it has now itself become easy fodder for comics.

Online, where parodies by “Saturday Night Live” and “Conan” poking fun of the musical’s early technical problems had recently been eagerly passed around, the tone shifted Tuesday from jokey schadenfreude to mild outrage.

“Becoming a bit of a joke _ a bad one _ but a joke,” wrote Dan Truong, a Toronto photographer, on Twitter.

An actor from TV’s “Modern Family,” Jesse Tyler Ferguson, used sarcasm to hint at the grisly nature of the accident-prone production.

“I’m torn between wanting to see `Spiderman’ on Broadway and not wanting to see someone literally die doing musical theater,” he said.

TV personality Dave Holmes said if “Spider-man” makes it out of previews, “it will be the leading cause of death in the state of New York.”

Still, a trickle of ticket-buyers appeared at the Foxwoods box office Tuesday morning. The accident did not stop Yumeho Asai, 20, of Gifu, Japan, from buying a ticket. She is studying musical theater herself. “I’m just so interested in the technical aspects,” she said.

Justin Waldman, 17, of Toronto, hadn’t heard about the show’s accidents, but said it wouldn’t affect buying a ticket.

“I like Spider-Man and I like U2, so I think the combination of the two would be a good mix,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Karen Matthews, Ula Ilnytzky and Sara Kugler Frazier, Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle and Broadcast reporter Warren Levinson contributed to this report.