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Bono’s $60 Million Spider-Man Flies in 3-Hour, 20-Minute Debut

The key art for the Broadway musical
The key art for the Broadway musical "Spider Man, Turn Off the Dark," with songs by U2 frontmen Bono and The Edge. Source: O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” at $60 million the most expensive Broadway musical in history, had its first preview last night at the Foxwoods Theatre. Nine years in the making, it was a long time coming and, at 3 hours and 20 minutes, a long time gone.

The flying was as spectacular as promised, with one Spidey and nine Spidey clones racing, leaping, jumping and climbing through the nether reaches of the theater. Director Julie Taymor and her team frequently stopped the action as they began fine-tuning the show before the official opening on Jan. 11.

The musical, with songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge, features performers in harnesses flying over the orchestra section of the theater, six-legged dancing girls and a smorgasbord of villains comprising actors in costumes and larger-than life puppets.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Loretta Tallon, a school psychologist in South Orange, New Jersey.

The performance raised questions about social responsibility, the illusory nature of reality and the difference between a preview and a rehearsal.

“I feel like it’s a dress rehearsal and not a preview,” a woman shouted in the dark during the last of five halts to the show to hammer out technical issues.

“It’s interesting, just being part of the rehearsals,” said Hugh Gelfand, a Washington, D.C. restaurateur and devoted U2 fan.

Terrific Flying

“I love the sets, the way they look like pop-up books,” said his wife, Laura Gelfand. “And the flying, that’s terrific.”

The show has proceeded in fits and starts since it was conceived in 2002. The official opening was delayed twice in the past year. On Nov. 5, the production announced that previews would be delayed by two weeks. Seven previews between now and the opening were also canceled.

During rehearsals, one performer broke his wrists and another broke a toe. Before last night’s first performance, lead producer Michael Cohl announced that all aerial stunts had been approved by the New York State Labor Department.

“Please do not try to hitch a ride with any of the performers,” he said.

Both Spider-Man and the Green Goblin wind up during the aerial routines on platforms over the orchestra attached to the first balcony, known as the “flying circle.”

The show’s been derailed by the death of the original producer, Tony Adams; a financial crisis that shut down production and an escalating budget as Taymor experimented with technically elaborate stunts new to Broadway.

Hamming It Up

The show stars 27-year-old Broadway newcomer Reeve Carney as Peter Parker and 19-year-old Jennifer Damiano (“Next to Normal”) as his imperiled love interest Mary Jane Watson. Patrick Page as the Green Goblin was a crowd favorite and hammed it up during one of the stoppages.

In Act II, Peter takes a break from crime fighting because he’d been neglecting Mary Jane. During his sabbatical, a half-dozen marauding villains known as the sinister six kill and plunder, conveyed by comic-book-inspired projections of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan in flames.

Sean James, an artist who attended the preview, said Taymor and her team have their work cut out for them.

“I don’t think the songs are strong,” he said. “The flying stuff is excellent. The rest of the show is pretty slow.”

Slow Return

Repaying the show’s investors may also be pretty slow and only if the Foxwoods Theatre, formerly known as the Hilton, sells out for years to come. The show has operating costs of about $1 million a week, according to a member of the production team. The show’s $150 standard orchestra seat is the dearest on Broadway. Seats in the first 14 rows of the center orchestra section sell for $289 on weekends.

If “Spider-Man” sold every seat and its average ticket went for $108 -- the same price as at “Wicked” -- it would take in about $1.6 million a week and break even after about two years. If the average selling price were $134 -- the same as the hit “Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino -- it would take in $2 million a week and break even after 60 weeks.

Last night’s performance was sold out as of yesterday morning, according to Ticketmaster.com, and prime tickets are scarce for previews through December. Tickets are more widely available beginning in January, especially on weekdays.

Some published reports have put the “Spider-Man” budget at $65 million to $70 million. Rick Miramontez, the show’s spokesman, said in an e-mail it was about $60 million.

“For the good of the industry, we should be rooting for it to be successful,” said Manny Azenberg, a veteran producer who isn’t involved. “We need a big musical hit.”

The character of Spider-Man was introduced in a 10-cent comic book edited by Stan Lee that was first published in August 1962. The three “Spider-Man” movies from Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures starring Tobey Maguire have collectively generated more than $2.5 billion in worldwide box-office sales, the studio has said. Taymor’s “The Lion King” has grossed over $4.2 billion globally since it opened on Broadway in November 1997, according to Walt Disney Co.

To contact the writer on this story: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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