- Associated Press - Friday, December 31, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - The long-delayed Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has suffered another blow with the departure of a lead actress, one of a number of performers injured in the costly production even before its official opening.

Natalie Mendoza, who recently had returned to the stunt-heavy show after suffering a concussion during its first preview performance last month, pulled out for good following several days of negotiations between lawyers for both sides. Producers Thursday evening broke the news to the cast before the 8 p.m. performance.

The actress cited her head injury as the reason she walked away.

“It has been a difficult decision to make, but I regret that I am unable to continue on ‘Spider-Man’ as I recover from my injury,” Mendoza said in a statement.

The 30-year-old singer and actress, whose credits include the British TV drama “Hotel Babylon” and the horror film “The Descent,” was hit in the head by a rope offstage Nov. 28. Although she struggled through another performance, she was eventually sidelined for two weeks and wrote on her Facebook page that she was on nausea tablets and painkillers.

The show’s official opening was most recently pushed back from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7, in part because of Mendoza’s injury and after producers decided that the creative team needed to work out more kinks before allowing critics to weigh in. Mendoza’s leaving has not changed that new opening date, producers said.

Mendoza played Spider-Man’s evil love interest Arachne _ a part written by director and co-book author Julie Taymor _ and is one of four actors to be injured in the $65 million musical that has been delayed four times this year alone.

The Arachne role involves singing several songs and being part of numerous flying sequences, including one in which she is spun upside-down. Castmembers T.V. Carpio and Arachne understudy America Olivo have been filling in for Mendoza and it is believed one of them will get the role permanently.

The protracted exit of a key star only a few weeks before the launch of what is considered Broadway’s most expensive show was in keeping with a production that has been marred by accidents and bad press.

Mendoza’s move comes 10 days after stuntman Christopher W. Tierney, playing the web-slinger, fell about 30 feet into a stage pit when a safety tether failed on Dec. 20. He spent Christmas in the hospital while recovering from back surgery and was transferred to a New York City rehab facility this week. His accident was also the last night Mendoza performed as Arachne.

The drip-drip of almost weekly bad news has turned the musical _ whose costs easily dwarf Broadway’s last costliest show, the $25 million “Shrek the Musical” _ into fodder for late-night comics, with both Conan O’Brien and “Saturday Night Live” spoofing the show. Even Donny and Marie Osmond are ridiculing it in their own Christmas musical.

Mendoza was one of four relatively unknown leads in the show, including Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane Watson and Patrick Page is the Green Goblin. Taymor, who earned raves for her “Lion King,” and music by U2’s Bono and The Edge are the real draws.

Other Broadway shows have survived the injury or loss of a key actor before opening, including Nathan Lane, who fell through a trap door while starring in “The Frogs” in 2004 and missed a show with bruised and gashed legs, and Idina Menzel, who fractured a rib falling through a trap door in a 2005 performance of “Wicked.” (She went on to win a Tony in the role.)

Allison Bibicoff, an actress and dancer who served as assistant choreographer and an associate producer on the 2007 Tony-nominated musical “Xanadu,” recalls her own hairy moments when that roller-skating musical was still in previews.

Actor James Carpinello bizarrely broke his foot while in skates alone on stage less than three hours before an evening curtain and was rushed away in an ambulance. Producers scrambled to find a substitute from the other actors, but the show was never delayed. Three days later, the male lead was handed to Cheyenne Jackson. (Carpinello went on to star in “Rock of Ages.”)

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