Troubled Broadway 'Spider-Man' flies again

A revamped "Spider-Man" musical took flight Thursday evening, with producers hoping audiences would take kindly to a cleaner script, a more comic approach, tighter music and an enhanced love story for the most expensive show in Broadway history.

"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" had been on a three-week hiatus aimed at giving the creative team a chance to rescue the show, which was savaged by critics and nearly defeated by a series of stunt accidents during an extended run in previews.

The worst of those accidents was the near-fatal fall of actor Christopher Tierney, who performs most of Spider-Man's flying stunts and suffered a fractured skull, a fractured shoulder blade, four broken ribs and three broken vertebrae on Dec. 20 when he tumbled in front of a shocked preview audience after a safety harness failed. He returned to the show Thursday and remarkably showed no signs of his injury.

"It was a 2 1/2-hour roller coaster ride," an exuberant Tierney said outside after the show. "I'm stronger coming back than I was before," he said. "Only a little soreness here and there." He also spoke of a huge rush of emotion among cast members.

Asked if the show was safe now, he laughed. "We are the safest show on Broadway, I'll tell you that much," Tierney said. "I actually think it's a little too much now."
Other actors were equally exultant.

"This was one of the greatest nights I've ever had in the theater," said Patrick Page, who plays the Green Goblin in a much-expanded part. He and other actors said they were thrilled with the crowd reaction.

"The audience leaping to its feet always helps," Page joked of the standing ovation at the end.

The actor, who also has a brand-new number by Bono and The Edge, said his favorite change to the show was the new focus on relationships, and "being able to tell the story straight through, without stops. That seems to engage the audience more."

But he also paid tribute to original director Julie Taymor. "Everything about 'Spider-Man' came from her vision and her passion," he said.

Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker and Spider-Man, said the whole cast felt a huge sense of relief. "It was so exciting," he said. "This case is so amazing and we were all feeding off each other tonight."

Striking changes were a much lighter tone, including a number of comic moments, and a reduced role for the character of Arachne, conceived by Taymor. Arachne was a villain originally and is now a guiding angel for Spider-Man.

Before the rebooted show began, producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah "Jere" Harris took the stage to greet the audience. "It's almost a brand-new show," Cohl told the crowd.

The producers then joked that it was not really the 146th preview, but the "second first preview."

At intermission, Scot Robinson, who was visiting New York City from Canada, said he was enjoying the show.

"The scale is wildly ambitious," he said. "I came not sure what to expect, but I really like it."

The show was not quite sold out. Rick Miramontez, a show spokesman, said tickets were selling briskly, though the show's own website indicated dozens of available seats for the next few days. Some ticket brokers were even offering up to 40 percent off orchestra and balcony seats.

In the new version, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, director Philip William McKinley and choreographer Chase Brock cleaned up — and significantly lightened — a story that had wandered into darker and mythological themes, while Bono and The Edge reworked the songs. More flying stunts were added and the romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane was greatly expanded.

The original show began previews in November and soon went bad. Performances were canceled and stunts went awry, leaving actors trapped hanging over the audience. There were five major accidents, the worst involving Tierney. Lead actress Natalie Mendoza left the show after suffering a concussion.

Every new crisis seemed to postpone another opening, leading to it break the record for the longest run of preview performances, a dubious milestone.

All the bad press — including professional critics who slammed the show in February — didn't hurt the show at the box office, where it regularly sold out and was among the highest earners on Broadway.

Greg Wendelken, 49, picked up a ticket Thursday to see what all the fuss was about. "All the uproar about it — biggest budget on Broadway," he said. "I'm intrigued."

The new show expects to have about a month of previews before its June 14 opening. Since it missed this year's Tony Award deadline and the potential prizes, it could have a tumultuous summer if the economy fails to improve, tourists flock to other shows and New Yorkers who saw the original now sniff at lining up to see the rebooted Spidey.

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