Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dangerous Nights on Broadway: "Accident Prone" Spider-Man Musical Should Mandate Hard Hats for Orchestra Seats -- And That's No Joke

"If Spider-Man makes it out of previews," cracked TV personality David Holmes, "it will be the leading cause of death in the state of New York."

"Please pray with me for my friend, Chris, " said one of the show's stars, Natalie Mendoza, referring to stunt double Christopher Tierney, who during a Monday night show, fell 30 feet to the stage when a rope attached to his sailing body suddenly malfunctioned.

When Tierney went down, "you started to hear people screaming in the pit," recounted Christine Bord, a balcony ticket holder.

The seriously injured actor was ambulanced off. Shortly after, customers were sent home.

Taken to Bellvue Hospital, Tierney was reported to have suffered only minor injuries. But a report in The New York Times had the hospital listing him in serious condition.

Producers conferred this morning with various labor officials and Actor's Equity reps to rethink safety measures for immediate implementation.

"It is clear that we need to give the team more time to fully execute their vision," conceded lead producer Michale Cohl.

Commenting on the problem plagued previews that have caused at least three other injuries so far, including a brain concussion, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson shared his own fears: "I'm torn between wanting to see 'Spiderman" on Broadway and not wanting to see someone literally die doing musical theatre."

TV hosts have been making hay with Spider-Man jokes.

And what had the mayor of New York city to say about all this? "Hopefully, they'll get all the bugs out, sighed an apparently unphased Michael Bloomberg. "I'm told it's phenomenally complex, which is one of the reason's that it's going to be such a great show. We do have certain laws to make things safe, and we will certainly enforce the laws."

The production has been under skeptical radar for weeks by the federal Occupational and Health Administration. Their monitoring will only intensify, said OSHA spokesman John Chavez. Among actions being taken by the agency are employee interviews, examination of equipment and records kept to determine if fed safety laws are being flouted.

There are those thrill seekers who will no doubt flock to this eerie extravaganza. How many of them, however, will relish sitting directly under all of the action? Were I to go, I'd sit way up in there in the Gods; no way would I put myself in harm's way, out in the priciest seats where I could get dumped up by unscripted mishaps.

Will Spider-Man even make it to opening night, February 7? Can it ever be a safe work of art? I once built a model roller coaster, and am still every few years trying to make it a perfect operation; it never has been and likely never will. The troubling travails of this Julie Taymor-conceived work, ominously overloaded with impractical stunts requiring the rigging of a three-ring big top, remind me of my own reliably imperfect creation. One audience member injured and this show is off the boards.

In order to make back its $65 million investment, the company will have to play to sold-out crowds for several years. I'll make my own chancy prediction: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will be in the dark within 7-8 months, all of its money wasted.

Perhaps there should be a license to practice circus on Broadway. Clearly, Spider-Man's staff would flunk out.

[Material for this post was drawn from the AP report by John Carucci and Tom McElroy]


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you're so down on this show David. It seems to me that anytime anyone tries something new and unique that many critics seem to want them to fail. If these same critics where to see a circus in pre-production there would be far fewer circuses on the road today. This is a show that could bring a new and exciting level to B'way. Give them a fair chance.
Ken (also not on anyone's payroll)

Showbiz David said...


I am very apprehensive about a production so fraught with dangerous mishaps, particularly to the audience if an actor goes flying into it, which could literally happen. that would be a new dimension. Rarely if ever do auidendes at circuses sit directly under aerial acts. in fact, were I in NY, this is the show I would want to see, but, as said, NOT from an orchestra seat.

I posted a previous item highly critical of the NY Post critic, Mike Riedel, for reviewing the show so negatively before it officially opens, belieivng it very unfair. They still, I suppose, have a fighting chance to be the broadway musical of the century.

you imply there are many injuries to circus performers not reported. I've wondered about that.

Wade G. Burck said...

Ken's got a point, and there are numerous injuries that go unnoticed in the circus. In fact, "Producers conferred this morning with various labor officials and Actor's Equity reps to rethink safety measures for immediate implementation" I don't ever recall anything like this happening in the circus. I believe you frown on "mechanics", and also, in the confines of a tent you are not much further away from the action then the orchestra pit.
Wade Burck

Alan Cabal said...

This thing is gonna make that musical version of CARRIE look like SOUTH PACIFIC.

Showbiz David said...

really THAT bad, Alan? I am laughing!

Wade, to me, directly sitting under aerial action would freak me out. My impression is that, on average, the average U.S. circus may experience a perilous (rarely fatal) fall of aerialist every other year. Wrong?

Wade G. Burck said...

Not just aerialist's, but animal acts as well. I think the issue was reported ones, not necessarily fatal, as what occurred in the Broadway production. In that regards, yes wrong. You would be amazed at what "evaporates/goes away". Back in the day there were so many show's, less then a quarter of which were legitimate concerns. Showmans Insurance was initiated and each act was contractually required to buy it, even if you went on a show for a week spot day, even if you had insurance, you had to purchase it for the date. That way if you augered in, or lost a hand to a feline, or a ruptured spleen to an elephant, the producer was covered, and it was not his issue.
The circus has played it as loose and free as can be played, when it came to injuries, regardless of the severity to the performer. To this day, I have a permanently dislocated right shoulder% loss of mobility, a torn rotater cuff in the left shoulder with 50% loss of mobility, a permanently broken finger on the left hand, along with muscle damage with 35% loss of use in that hand from damage from claws. I missed on show in my entire career. Emergency services were covered, with one case taking the hospital 2 years to recover. But that is it, no disability or any other compensation. I sure don't bemoan the poor folks on Broadway. They have the greatest deal I have ever heard of. God Bless their fortune.
Wade Burck