Bono and The Edge to help Spider-Man musical

By Tom Brook
BBC News, New York

image captionBono and The Edge are one half of Irish rock band U2

U2's Bono and The Edge are coming to the aid of their problem-plagued Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

The musicians, who wrote the score, will be visiting this month to "to do what they need to do", said show spokesman Rick Miramontez.

Up until now neither of them have been available to attend any performances because of touring commitments in New Zealand and Australia.

Their musical - the biggest in Broadway history - begins the New Year facing numerous challenges.

Four actors from the production have been injured during previews, one of them seriously.

There have been forced cancellations, frequent technical glitches and negative early assessments from critics.

Some theatre pundits question whether the troubled show can ever become a long-term success.

Michael Riedel, a theatre columnist with the New York Post, is not optimistic.

"My sense in covering Broadway over the years is that with very few exceptions, shows that get negative publicity in the beginning generally do so because they're not really all that good," he said.

"I don't think Spider-Man can overcome the publicity."

Although Bono and The Edge have yet to comment on the show, Mr Riedel does not think their initial reaction will be one of enthusiasm.

Financial issues

"I would suspect they'll be a little unhappy with what they see because the show is not playing particularly well," he explains.

"The theatre has a terrible sound system, so you sometimes cannot hear the lyrics or the music."

He also thinks the production could begin to have financial issues.

"The real problem for the show is that it is so expensive - $65 million, with a running cost each week of $1.5 million.

"They have to sell a ton of tickets just to break even each week, and that's a very, very hard task."

Yet Miramontez plays down the situation. "We're a little more in the public eye but for a Broadway musical these problems are as old as the hills," he said.

image captionThe production at at New York's Foxwoods Theatre has been plagued with problems

After being postponed twice, the $65 million (£41 million) production is now scheduled to open on 7 February.

Its preview performances have been fraught with difficulties and safety concerns.

The most serious accident involved cast member Christopher Tierney, who plunged more than 20 feet into the orchestra pit when a safety rope snapped.

The performance - in the week before Christmas - was brought to a halt and prompted an immediate safety review.

Tierney, who recently left hospital, told WCBS TV in New York what he remembers from the accident.

"Once I hit the darkness of the stage, I had to just turn it real quick so I wasn't going to fall on my head and I crashed on my back."

'Very upsetting'

New York theatregoer Steven Tartick was watching the show as Tierney fell.

"I started to have a panic attack in the theatre, people around me were crying. It was very upsetting," he said.

"Then you leave the theatre and there are ambulances rushing up and that drove home the gravity of the situation."

Tierney's injuries included a fractured skull, a broken shoulder blade and cracked vertebrae.

In another setback, lead actress Natalie Mendoza suffered a concussion after being hit by a weighted rope on the first night of previews.

The 32-year-old has since pulled out of the show. "It has been a difficult decision to make but I regret that I am unable to continue," she said in a statement.

Ironically, though, the show's troubles have been helping to bring in audiences.

image captionSpider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the most expensive musical staged on Broadway

"Everyone wants to see it, but usually so that they can see someone get hurt," says Gregory Castoria, a theatre promoter who fields questions from the public as they wait to buy discounted tickets in New York's Times Square.

"They want to see it for the wrong reasons, unfortunately."

Theatregoer Alice Brown, from Virginia, said she had heard that in the musical "people hit the ground a lot during the show, but that it's really good".

"I'd love to see it," she said. "You never know what's going to happen - it's really live theatre".

Adding to Spider-Man's problems are the two theatre critics who have broken the traditional embargo on reviews by writing preliminary assessments before the official opening.

Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News did have praise for some members of the creative team, including the aerial choreographer.

Yet he concluded it was "an unfocused hodge-podge of story-telling, myth-making and spectacle that comes up short in every department."

'Really spectacular'

Such early reviews brought condemnation from veteran New York critic John Simon, who said it was "like grabbing a dish from a restaurant kitchen before it is fully cooked and then judging the meal by it."

Performances in the past few days have been packed to capacity, but audiences have had mixed reactions.

Andrew Jeffrey from Melbourne has nothing but praise. "Yeah, it was a ripper!" he said. "I came all the way from Australia to see it, so I was pretty happy."

image captionNatalie Mendoza's role is now played by actress Teresa Carpio

Yet another theatregoer, Lois Plafond from Colorado, was not totally satisfied.

"I thought the ending was weak," she said. "It just kind of fell apart at the end for some reason.

"It turned into this little love story and it didn't work for me. But until three-quarters of the way through it was really spectacular."

Critics will cast their final verdict when they write their full reviews after opening night next month.

In the meantime, interest in the production continues to surge - arguably making Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark the most scrutinised show in Broadway history.

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