Could the musical Spider-Man be the 'biggest disaster in Broadway history'?

Spiraling costs and technical disasters have generated the wrong kind of buzz. Will anything go right for this $65 million show?

The musical will be roughly based on the plot from the first Spider-Man movie, but will also feature a number of new villians.
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Three weeks ago, Broadway's troubled production of "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark" suffered its most serious setback yet when stuntman Christopher Tierney fell "20 to 30 feet" to the stage during a preview performance, suffering a skull fracture and cracked vertebrae. Since then, actress Natalie Mendoza, who plays the newly invented character Arachne — and who had also been injured on set at one point — quit the show altogether. And this week, The New Yorker poked fun at the injury-plagued production with a cover featuring "a hospital wing populated by convalescing Spideys." Yet Monday brought one important piece of good news for "Spider-Man:" The show is attracting record crowds. The New York Times reports that "Spider-Man" topped perennial favorite "Wicked" as the highest-grossing production on Broadway last week, making close to $1.6 million. Does this mean that, despite all the missteps, the show might actually become a hit? Here's an instant guide to this high-budget, high-risk gamble of a production:

What is Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark?

It's a Broadway show with music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge from Irish rock band U2. It is being directed by The Lion King creator Julie Taymor and stars Reeve Carney, a relatively unknown 23-year-old singer, as Peter Parker and his superhero alter ego, Spider-Man. With a reported budget of $65 million, it is the costliest musical ever produced on Broadway.

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What's it about?

It's roughly based on the plot from the first Spider-Man movie, with a young Peter Parker discovering his powers, battling the Green Goblin, and falling in love with childhood sweetheart Mary Jane. But Marvel also promises a host of "super villains never-before-imagined" for the blockbuster production. Taymor is reportedly spicing up the drama with elements of Greek mythology.

Why has it been such a troubled production?

Producers had to put the show — originally slated to open in February 2010 — on ice last year because they couldn't raise enough money. Bono brought in an additional producer, rock promoter Michael Cohl, to get the finances in order, but the delays forced nearly every member of the original cast — including Tony Award winner Alan Cumming, who was to play the Green Goblin — to leave the show. Even with the initial funding worked out, the New York Post's Michael Riedel has estimated the weekly production costs at roughly $1 million. "Spider-Man will have to run five years at full capacity," he predicts, "just to earn back the production cost." And given its track record thus far, "I bet it'll be the biggest financial disaster in Broadway history."

Is the show up and running yet?

The first sneak preview took place in November, two weeks later than planned, and drew plenty of negative publicity for its many starts and stops. The show's producers had planned to work out the kinks for an official opening date of January 11, but recently pushed back the production's debut to "sometime in February."

Who's to blame for all the long delays?

In November, production sources told the Times that Julie Taymor, the show's director, had spent more time "experimenting over and over with the flying stunts" in the show than "preoccupying herself with deadlines." She may have good reason for that, though — the show's cutting-edge flying effects have been perilously difficult to pull off. Two actors were injured rehearsing a maneuver in which they are "launched from the back of the stage like a slingshot," and the Department of Labor even examined the show to ensure its stunts are not too dangerous.

Does anyone predict it will be a hit?

Taymor's other Broadway show — The Lion King — has so far grossed $713 million, so it's certainly possible, says Suzy Evans at Fast Company. But action heroes are an unknown quantity on the Great White Way, and movie adaptations have had mixed success. Ominously, DreamWorks last year failed to recoup its "initial investment" of $25 million for Shrek: The Musical, which closed after a single year. Odds are that Spider-Man will be a "financial fiasco," says J. Kelly Nestruck at The Toronto Globe and Mail. On the other hand, says Mike Bracken at Moviefone, the early returns are heartening, and "edging out a popular production like 'Wicked' is definitely something to crow about."

Sources: New York Times (2), Washington Post, New York Post, Fast Company, Wall St. Journal, New York Post, The Toronto Globe and Mail, Entertainment Weekly, Moviefone

This article was originally published on August 13, and last updated on January 12.

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