All $65 million of the new Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” took flight on Sunday night at its first preview performance, but not without bumps. The show stopped five times, mostly to fix technical problems, and Act I ended prematurely, with Spider-Man stuck dangling 10 feet above audience members, while Act II was marred by a nasty catcall during one of the mid performance pauses.
Rarely is the very first public run-through of a new musical perfect, and indeed, the creators of this “Spider-Man” — the most expensive and technically ambitious production ever on Broadway — used news media interviews recently to lower expectations that work on the musical was anywhere near done. But after a two-week delay in performances already this month, which sucked up about $4 million, the producers decided that on Sunday night the show would go on.
Costing more than twice as much as the previous record-holder for a big-budget show, “Shrek the Musical,” “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” took a bit of time revealing some of the reasons for its high expense. After beginning at 6.54pm — 24 minutes late, mostly because of 1,900 people taking their seats — the show unfolded for 30 minutes with few of the special effects that have been the talk of Broadway this fall.
At 7.23pm, an aerial scene began in Peter Parker’s bedroom to the delight of some audience members — yet it was halted two minutes later with the first of four pauses in Act I, apparently to free the lead actor, Reeve Carney (who plays Peter Parker and is one of those playing Spider-Man), from an aerial harness.
Most of the night’s major flying sequences — which make up a relative fraction of the show — went off without a hitch, with children and some adults squealing in delight. And there were no signs of injuries, which had been a point of concern after two performers were hurt during an aerial sequence this fall.
The fourth and final pause at the end of Act I was the worst glitch of the night by far. Spider-Man had just flown and landed on stage with the musical’s heroine, Mary Jane Watson (played by Jennifer Damiano), in his arms. He was then supposed to zoom off toward the balcony seating area, a few hundred feet away. Instead, a harness and cables lifted Spider-Man several yards up and over the audience, then stopped. A production stage manager, C. Randall White, called for a halt to the show over the sound system, apparently in hopes of fixing and re-doing the stunt.
Crew members, standing on the stage, spent 45 seconds trying to grab Spider-Man by the foot, as the audience laughed and oohed. When they finally caught him, Mr. White announced intermission, and the house lights came on.
The intermission began at 8:19 p.m.; it was still under way 34 minutes later when some in the audience began to clap in unison, as they passed their two-hour mark inside the theatre. Mr. White, the production stage manager, then said over the microphone, “I know, guys, I know, I beg your patience,” and the clapping stopped.
Act II began shortly after 9 p.m. and unfolded fairly smoothly until about 50 minutes later, when Mr. White called for a pause. After a few minutes, as some audience members were stretching, a woman in the audience suddenly shouted, “I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I feel like a guinea pig today — I feel like it’s a dress rehearsal.” She was met with a chorus of boos. The performance resumed a moment later; the show ended at 10:09 p.m.
The musical has attracted out sized public and media attention by Broadway standards, in large part because of the money and talent involved: U2’s Bono and the Edge signed on to create the show nine years ago, and have written a full-length score, their first for Broadway, and helped recruit as the director Julie Taymor, a Tony Award winner for one of the last musical spectaculars to open on Broadway, “The Lion King.”
The arrival of the first preview — it had originally been scheduled for January, then February, then 14 November — brought out Spidey fans of all ages. Chris McAvey, a 24-year-old “fan of Spider-Man since the age of 5,” wore an old Spider-Man t-shirt that he picked up at a comic-book convention years ago. Asked about his expectations for the night, he noted that he had purchased tickets for one of the previews originally scheduled in February.
“Let me put it this way,” he said, “For the time I’ve had to wait to see this, it better be good!” After the show, several audience members said in interviews that they would hold off on recommending the show to friends until improvements were made. Sherry Lawrence, a writer for a U2 fan Web site, said that even though she liked some of the songs, she planned to tell readers to wait for the creators to do more work during previews.
But Marc Tumminelli, 30, who runs a Manhattan acting school for children, said he was concerned that the musical’s problems were too fundamental to be corrected quickly. “The story-telling is really unclear and I found it hard to understand exactly what was going on and why certain things were happening,” Mr. Tumminelli said.
More delighted was the 6-year-old boy sitting a row ahead. “Parts of it were really exciting,” said the boy, Jack Soldano, whose parents brought him. “I’ve never seen people flying before.”
Moments before the start of the performance, the lead producer of “Spider-Man,” Michael Cohl, took the stage to prepare the audience for what they were about to see.
“I’m hellishly excited, and I can’t believe we’re actually here and it’s actually going to happen,” said Mr. Cohl, a prominent rock concert promoter who was recruited by Bono in 2009 to take over the show after the previous producers could not raise all of the money for it. Mr. Cohl said he hoped that the night would prove to be “one of the great Broadway and show experiences of your life,” but also warned that the performance might need to stop at points.
Mr. Cohl has approved discounts for some of the tickets sold for preview performances. Many other audience members were still paying $140 or more on Sunday night.
The complexity of “Spider-Man” – particularly its net-free flying sequences over the heads of audience members – has also stoked curiosity, as well as concern, after two actors were injured (one whose wrists were broken) performing aerial stunts this fall. And the show’s growing costs – it will likely cost more than $65 million in the end – has drawn attention given the lavish expense at a time of economic recession, and the difficulty and delays associated with raising money to mount the show.
When Sunday’s performance did stop, the audience was warmly charitable for the most part. At one point in Act I, Mr. White asked for a round of applause for the actress Natalie Mendoza (who played the villainess Arachne) as she hung in mid-air during a six-minute pause. Later in the act, the actor Patrick Page (as the Green Goblin) improvised a bit by repeating some of the lyrics from his song “I’ll Take Manhattan.”
“Spider-Man” is scheduled to open on Jan. 11, 2011.