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'Spider-Man' musical turned off for a day

Associated Press
Thursday, December 23, 2010; C03

NEW YORK - Producers of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" said that Wednesday night's sold-out show was canceled to put new safety procedures in place, but that the show will resume Thursday.

The state Labor Department says it is satisfied that producers of the troubled Broadway musical had made the adjustments to prevent a repeat of this week's serious injury of a stunt double in a fall.

Labor officials worked at the Foxwoods Theatre on Wednesday with producers of the show, saying that a second person will be required to check whether harnesses are properly put in place. There are 38 separate moves where actors are put in harnesses to go up in the air.

The show's Tony-winning director, Julie Taymor, said when reached on her cellphone at the Foxwoods Theatre that she couldn't talk because of the rehearsal. Asked if authorities had given "Spider-Man" the go-ahead to resume performances, she said, "I think so."

State Department of Labor spokesman Leo Rosales said the safety inspection at the theater was completed early Wednesday afternoon. The results were to be announced at a news conference later in the afternoon. Wednesday's matinee was also canceled.

Christopher W. Tierney, the show's main aerialist playing the superhero, was undergoing back surgery Wednesday for injuries suffered during Monday's fall, which occurred just before the end of the show. The safety tether that clips to his back failed to prevent the spill.

The much-anticipated production, teaming "The Lion King" creator Taymor with musicians Bono and the Edge of U2, has had a rocky route to Broadway. There have already been three injuries among those involved in the stunt-filled, $65 million production, and its official Broadway opening has twice been postponed. It is now in previews; opening date was expected to be in February.

Tierney's brother, Patrick Tierney, said Christopher would be released from the hospital Friday or Saturday and would complete his recovery from surgery and the injuries at home in New Hampshire.

"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, 24, of Plaistow, N.H. "He has a strong body and an amazing attitude."

Patrick said Christopher's injury has been very hard on the family. As unhappy as they are with the "Spider-Man" production, he credits it with getting his brother "in the best shape of his life" before the accident.

"I have spoken with him, and he's in as good spirits as he can be," Patrick said. He said his brother is expected to make a full recovery, and when he does, "I'm sure he'll be back doing the same thing he's been doing."

Christopher, who appeared in the national tour of "Moving Out" and in "Dirty Dancing" in Toronto, performs stunts for the roles of Spider-Man and the villains Meeks and Kraven the Hunter. The cable to his harness apparently snapped, said a castmate who spoke on condition of anonymity because the performer was not authorized to speak publicly about the show.

Some Broadway actors have expressed concern about the safety of the "Spider-Man" cast and crew, given that they're performing acrobatic stunt work that needs to be repeated eight times a week.

"Perhaps they should have thought twice about what some of these stunts were," said Marc Kudisch, whose most recent Broadway credit was the musical "9 to 5."

"It's not like doing a stunt in a movie."

The production has been under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration since Nov. 2 at the request of the state Labor Department, OSHA said. That federal investigation will continue as a result of the latest incident.

OSHA has investigated other theater incidents in New York City, but none in recent history appeared to be related to incidents that occurred during the actual production, a spokesman said.

Most OSHA investigations involving theaters have dealt with accidents during off hours, such as one during the Christmas season at Radio City Music Hall in 1995, when an employee tripped over footlights and fell 23 feet into the orchestra pit while pushing back the curtain during a rehearsal.

State investigators weren't sure whether the equipment, the rigging or the performer caused the fourth accident in the troubled show. Actors' Equity Association called it human error, but the Labor Department's Rosales said the cause was under investigation.

"Spider-Man" has been more than eight years in the making. It has been plagued by delays, money woes and three other accidents, including one in which an actress suffered a concussion and another in which a performer broke his wrists in an aerial stunt.

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