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Curtain up? Theatergoers await `Spider-Man’ return

- Associated Press - Thursday, December 23, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Curtain up! Light the lights! Hopeful ticket-holders awaited the return of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" Thursday after two performances were canceled due to a scary fall that left a stuntman seriously injured.

And the $65 million question remained: Will new safety precautions allow the cast of Broadway's costliest show to "hit the heights" in close to 40 aerial maneuvers safely, avoiding another dangerous accident that could permanently shutter the show?

A hotline at the theater Thursday evening said the performance would go on as scheduled at 8 p.m. Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor had said the show's producers were close to implementing the safety measures they had agreed to enact following the accident.

Whatever was happening inside the Foxwoods Theatre at Manhattan's Times Square, it was clear from the line at the box office Thursday afternoon that business was booming. "We're sold out until Jan. 2," a ticket seller told a steady stream of buyers.

Some folks had tickets already, but wanted to check that the evening's show would go on as planned, since both Wednesday's matinee and evening performance had been canceled.

"They gave us a number to call later, just to make sure," said Mike Foux of Allentown, Pa. An avid Spider-Man fan since childhood, he had come to New York to see the show with his wife, Patti, and 20-year-old daughter, Jessie, for his birthday.

He echoed what many fans were saying: All the controversy had made the show that much more exciting to see. "I was thinking, with four accidents happening, there must be some truly amazing stunts," Foux said.

"Of course, nobody wants to see anyone get hurt," his wife added quickly.

That's what worried another ticketholder, Victoria Shaw-Locknar, who was attending Thursday's show with her daughters Ruby, age 11, and Ava, age 9.

"Actually, I'm really nervous," Shaw-Locknar said. "I don't want them to see anyone get hurt. I think it's sick, people who say they want to see that." But she figured that producers must have worked out the kinks. "I think tonight is going to be really safe," she said.

Besides, she added, attending the show would be experiencing a piece of history: "We'll be seeing either the biggest future hit or the biggest flop!"

Still, some theatergoers weren't taking any chances. Gene Nagotko came by to exchange his tickets, from a January date to a February one.

"I just didn't want to see an experimental show," said the banker from New Jersey, who had good reason to want to protect his investment: He has six Spider-Man-loving kids, and so he'd bought eight tickets.

The cast and crew of the musical spent Wednesday and Thursday rehearsing 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 bumpy ride 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.

James J. Claffey, Jr., president of Local One IATSE _ the stage employees union _ said Thursday in a statement that his group "is confident in the additional safety protocols."

"'Spider-Man' is the most challenging musical production in the history of Broadway," he said. "For all the advanced technical equipment used in today's Broadway shows, the shows are still performed and run by human beings. The human element cannot be taken out of live theater, and the Broadway theater is a strictly choreographed system of actors, stage managers, technicians and machines."

Maureen Cox, director of safety and health for the department of labor, said the investigation into Tierney's accident is continuing. 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.

Tierney's brother Patrick, who came down from New Hampshire to see Tierney through back surgery, said his brother would be released from Bellevue 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."

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Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

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