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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 12/22/2010

The Rant: For Broadway's SPIDER-MAN, it is time to turn off this lark

By Michael Cavna


Perhaps this is blasphemous, coming from a lifetime comics fan and longtime theater editor, but say it some of us must:

It is time for Peter Parker to come down from the ceiling. Spidey should finally have the sense to turn off this lark.

By that, Comic Riffs doesn't mean that the producers close one of the most techically ambitious shows -- and the most expensive show -- in Broadway history. But as preview performances of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" pile up a body count that makes the physical rigors of "Black Swan" look mild, it is time for the string-slinging $65-million production to dial back the aerobatics.

The snakebit show's latest accident -- its fourth in a month -- came Monday night when aerialist Christopher Tierney hurtled 30 feet into a stage pit after his safety harness failed to prevent his fall. The mishap halted the performance as Tierney was taken to the hospital (you can view the video below). The show's producers said performances will resume Wednesday night. (Update: The producers have now announced they have canceled Wednesday's night performance.)

Comic Riffs doesn't doubt that visionary director Julie Taymor and the rest of the "Spider-Man" creative team -- including U2's Bono and the Edge -- have a masterpiece of a superheroic production dancing in their heads. But when the age-old performer's idiom "break a leg" becomes a bad-luck likelihood, it is time to rethink the stakes of the wall-crawling spectacle.

With great theatrical power comes great accountability.

Not that Comic Riffs doesn't appreciate the rewards of large-scale stage effects. "Titanic," in particular, comes to mind: On Broadway, the show was plagued by major technical woes in previews, as the ship proved as unsinkable as Molly Brown; by the time we saw the show months later at the Lunt-Fontanne in early 1998, though, the effects seemed seamless.

And we relish a special airborne effect or two. In this year's touring "Mary Poppins" at the Kennedy Center, the aerial acrobatics were especially memorable as Bert the chimney sweep stepped in time upside-down, two thin wires holding him high above the stage, and Mary soared to the ceiling in her final umbrella flight.

We also have enjoyed witnessing live such inspired stage artistry as Taymor's visions for "The Lion King," as well as U2's expensive sets for their arena-packing tours.

Yet with "Spider-Man," these ambitious veteran talents well may have let their elevated aspirations swing too far at, literally, too high a cost.

"Spider-Man" co-creator Stan Lee recently expressed to us his confidence that the show -- guided by this team -- will ultimately deliver a real visual winner. Comic Riffs certainly hopes that this much-delayed, physically demanding behemoth -- already a punch line for Conan O'Brien and "Saturday Night Live" -- will succeed critically if not commercially.

But the best course of action and traction at this critical point is to turn down the aerial dynamics. Because if there is a worse flop than the loss of a record-busting budget, it is the all-too-audible flop of bodies hitting the stage and the pit, the headlines and the hospital.

Spidey's sense should tell him to please: Stop the bleeding.

By Michael Cavna  | December 22, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Superheroes  | Tags:  Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark  
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Comics (books and strips), movies, and live theater each have their own strengths. Why must producers assume that the same material would work in all three media? (Yes, I know that there's a built-in popularity in adapting a successful source.) But the series of injuries on the Broadway Spider-Man stage says that maybe they're pushing too far to duplicate the effects that are possible in filming or drawing.

Posted by: CherieOK | December 22, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Let's stop the insanity, even if everyone does it and it's been done for years: stop the pretentious practice by critics of saying "we" when it would be accurate to say "I" (as in "I believe," rather than the royal "we believe"). It takes only one critic with the courage (and without a huge ego) to start the ball rolling. Will Cavna be the hero? We doubt he will be. And we are not amused.

Posted by: Sutter | December 22, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Oh, for Pete's sake. It's just a Broadway show. They'll figure out the technical stuff or they'll cut the parts that are keeping them from opening. At any rate, not many people attend shows anymore, so who cares?

Posted by: schafer-family | December 22, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse


In canceling Wednesday night's performance, show spokesman Rick Miramontez has now announced in a 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."


Posted by: cavnam | December 22, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

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