Troubled ‘Spiderman’ Battles Injuries, Delays Opening

Supposedly it was going to be this Broadway season’s splashiest, costliest, biggest show. However, it’s turned out to be the most troubled. On Thursday, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” executives said the opening for the $60 million, often delayed musical was being pushed back once again, for three weeks this time. That means it will miss the very lucrative Thanksgiving week as well as Christmas attention getting bow and open in January’s box office doldrums instead.

November 14 was the intended first performance. However the show is one that its well known creators- Julie Taymor, the director, the Edge, and Bono of U2 are still working on to finish. They are still working out a couple dozen flying sequences and still need to to get safety approval from New York state’s Department of Labor. Bono is making his Broadway debut, but the music still hasn’t been synchronized with the dialogue, plot and special effects. Scene transitions, which are essential for safety and rhythm, also haven’t been completed. During acrobatic rehearsal sequences, two actors have sustained injuries.

No one knows for sure whether the musical will still be its expected length of two and one half hours until the run-throughs begin.

Michael Cohl, lead producer of the show said on Thursday, right now it’s about tweaking all of the nuts and bolts. We are slightly behind, however it is coming together finally at long last. Originally “Spider-Man” was supposed to start in February. However the production was shut down after the former lead producer no longer had any money. In addition to a potential loss in ticket sales to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, the most recent delay is raising the stakes. Already “Spider-Man” is the most expensive show on Broadway of all time, in an attempt to demonstrate that theatrical art and movie-sized budgets can be a commercial success on Broadway. The most costly show on Broadway to this point has been “Shrek the Musical,” at $25 million reportedly. It played for 14 months without earning its investment back.

Julie Taymor, film director and winner of a Tony Award for her work on “The Lion King,” has stated she would like to create a spectacle that is nothing like anything that has even been seen before on Broadway. However what that has meant is that she and the producers and other creators have set the bar higher than any other other show has had to face. It will need to sell lots of tickets, selling at average prices on Broadway, on par with the monster Broadway hit “Wicked” to have any realistic chance to turn a profit.

Taymor’s reputation lies with her artistic ingenuity, perfectionism and creating art that is corporate-subsidized without obsessing over deadlines and costs. She has accordingly spent significant blocks of time during the long rehearsal period of 11 weeks experimenting with special effects and the flying and carefully attempting to put the pieces all together. The Edge and Bono have been on 42nd Street at Foxwoods Theater this week to prepare for a signature moment in the gestation of the show: on Sunday the cast and orchestra will perform the musical’s score together for the first time at the theater..

According to creative team members, Taymor is staying calm. Glen Berger, who collaborated on the book for the show with Taymor said, no doubt it’s crunch time. Julie can hardly wait for the show to be up to show people all that we’ve done. Right now she is staying focused solely on the tasks that need to be done. With all the negativity about the show out there it’s hard. If this show didn’t work, it would be much worse for us. However it does. Soon people will see that.

Delays for new musicals that don’t have tryouts out of town before opening on Broadway are common. “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” on Thursday night opened at Belasco Theater. Preview performances were delayed twice in order to cope with an array of elaborate projections and moving scenery.

Currently, “Spider-Man” is scheduled to start performances on November 28 and then open January 11, 2011 rather than December 21. Cohl chalked up the delay to getting things right.

Cohl said, it’s not really a big deal if it happens to be November 10 or 14 or 20 or 28. It is a big deal for people whose shows got canceled, and I do feel awful about that. We are trying our best.

The delay does scramble the options for theatergoers who are looking for a Broadway extravaganza that is critic tested for the holiday season. For Samuel Moulton, lecturer at Harvard University, the delay is a big disappointment. He purchased tickets for the November 14 performance. It was supposed to be the high point in his New York getaway along with his girlfriend flying in from England.

Moulton said, I’m a big fan of U2 and she loves theater. It seemed liked this would be a perfect convergence of our interests. To rebook would require too much planning. I’m annoyed they couldn’t decide this earlier. It’s obvious this show is a technical monster.

Publicly producers might be shrugging the delay off and still envisioning that “Spider-Man” will be a year long profit maker. However the reputation of the show has developed into a problematic one, at least short term. There have been questioned raised, as well as a state investigation initiated to study how safe the flying is. All the attention and focus on special effects could deter traditional theatergoers looking for a good story and score. For instance some older people have been asking the group sales agents questions about if the show has anything in it for them.

The technical difficulties and delay more than anything could cause people to be reluctant to purchase tickets before word of mouth and critics reviews are out. That’s something that Spider Man’s famous comic and movie brand hasn’t ever had to rely on in American culture before.

There isn’t any doubt that this delay is causing a big problem for buffing and building the brand, as well as building up anticipation and excitement for the show, Rick Kelley, vice president of the theatrical group sales company Maxwell Group Entertainment said. Before the Spidey icon hasn’t ever needed a buzz. However the shows does need more. I pity the poor box office people. They will lose money and have to rebook tickets like crazy at the very same time.

Group sales agents like Mr. Kelley will need to rebook a few groups with middle November dates. However December is when a majority of their business starts. Over the holidays the biggest draws are day-of and family ticket buyers visiting New York instead of groups waiting for discounts during the slower months.

Stephanie Lee, Group Sales Box Office president said, they will take a hit, lose the week of Thanksgiving and fall off probably over Christmas and New Year due to the fact that some people will want to read reviews before buying tickets. If the show ends up being a hit, of course then they won’t have a problem making the money up.

The creators and producers are banking partly on the delay garnering some interest in the show’s special effects among theatergoers and the media. According to two of the production’s executives, who spoke anonymously, so far theatergoers have only shown a mild interest in purchasing tickets.

So far advance ticket sales for the show total approximately $8 million in cash and an additional $2-3 million for unpaid group orders. The advance will decline most likely due to the canceled previews. For a Broadway musical with a standard $10 million budget those would be healthy dollar amounts. However against a $60 million capitalization and likely $1 million cost to run the show each week, it is low.

Most musicals on Broadway attempt to keep their costs under $10 million to give them a chance at earning a profit. A majority of the 40 theaters on Broadway don’t have sufficient seating to sell premium or regular prices to earn enough for covering weekly costs as well as start to pay investors back, much less turn a profit.

It’s hard to project whether or not “Spider-Man” will be profitable or not. The one thing that is certain is the show first of all needs to open.