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Broadway awaits arrival of tardy ‘Spider-Man’

The mammoth musical featuring a score by Bono and The Edge, was at one time set to begin preview performances Feb. 25 with an official opening scheduled for sometime in April.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The drawing of a familiar superhero stares out from the double doors of the dark Hilton Theatre on 42nd Street, just west of Times Square.

The red-and-blue-clad figure looks trapped inside the building, unable to get out, an apt metaphor perhaps for the show he is trumpeting: "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark," a $50 million — and counting — Broadway musical celebrating the exploits of America's most famous web slinger.

So far, all the drama has been offstage for what most likely will be the most expensive production in Broadway history for some time to come.

The mammoth musical, directed and co-written by Julie Taymor of "Lion King" fame and featuring a score by Bono and The Edge, was at one time set to begin preview performances Feb. 25 with an official opening scheduled for sometime in April.

The "Spider-Man" producers have been tightlipped about the show's status except for an occasional chipper press release announcing the musical is "moving forward" with additional financing under the supervision of the show's current lead producer, Michael Cohl. He came aboard in November.

New performance dates for the show are expected to be announced shortly with speculation about the rescheduled opening ranging from this summer after the Tony Awards in June to next fall.

Work on "Spider-Man" stopped last year because of financial difficulties, including an expensive renovation of the Hilton, reportedly to accommodate Taymor's environmental staging of the show, which would have the action — including some aerial bits of derring-do — swirl throughout the theater. And production, not to mention the financing, have proved difficult to get back on track.

Unlucky on Broadway
The 1,800-seat Hilton is one of Broadway's biggest and unluckiest theaters. It was cobbled together by Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky from the shells of two venerable playhouses — the Lyric and the Apollo.

The theater officially opened in January 1998 with Drabinsky's production of "Ragtime," which ran for two years and never made any money. Most of the Hilton's subsequent tenants have been less than illustrious. Remember "Hot Feet" (the Earth, Wind and Fire musical) and "The Pirate Queen"? And it hasn't housed a show since "Young Frankenstein" closed more than a year ago.

"Spider-Man" the musical has been in the works for more than six years, starting with an announcement about the show in 2004 from producer Tony Adams. He died unexpectedly the next year of a stroke. Adams was replaced by David Garfinkle, a Chicago lawyer, who bowed out of the lead producer slot after financial pressures mounted.

No one is speaking on the record about "Spider-Man," not Taymor, Bono or its cast. The performers include rock singer Reeve Carney as the title character and Peter Parker, his mild alter-ego; Evan Rachel Wood as Mary Jane Watson, Parker's girlfriend; and Alan Cumming in the role of Norman Osborn, also known as the villainous Green Goblin.

But in a New York Times report of a recent TimesTalk event, Cumming alluded to the show's financial problems, saying it's "a really weird, frustrating thing to be waiting."

In limboAnd the waiting has affected more than the actors connected with the show. Other jobs are in limbo, too. A platoon of backstage personnel will be needed. "Young Frankenstein," for example, employed 29 stagehands, 15 dressers and 10 people for hair and makeup during its run at the Hilton.

Group-sales organizations saw a "Spider-Man" presentation last March, a showcase that featured Taymor, Bono and several singers who performed songs from the musical.

"It was elegant, sumptuous. No expense was spared," said Phyllis Maxwell, who runs her own group-sales company, the Phyllis Maxwell Group. "I thought the show had potential. A lot of our people (customers) have been calling about it. They want to know what's happening to it."

Added Rick Kelley, Maxwell's associate, about the musical's box-office appeal: "People definitely were interested. The problem is that it has been put off and put off and put off, and they are losing interest. But I think tomorrow if they (the producers) came out and said, 'OK, it's coming,' we could sell it again. It's a family show. It's big. It's lavish. And that's what people want."

The stage version of "Spider-Man" isn't the only Spidey franchise to experience turbulence.

Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announced earlier this week that "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi and his star, Toby Maguire, would not be returning for a planned fourth movie. Instead, a new cast and filmmaking team will produce a new "Spider-Man" movie for summer 2012 that would focus on a much younger Peter Parker.

By then, the Broadway version should be up — and with luck — still running.