Epic disaster or blockbuster? "Spider-Man" hangs on

Thu Dec 23, 2010 7:24pm EST
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By Christine Kearney and Elly Park

NEW YORK (Reuters) - On Broadway, bad press doesn't necessarily spell failure, and the struggling "Spider-Man" musical is still luring tourists and theater goers into seats as it deals with persistent technical problems.

The ambitious, high-tech $65 million musical -- the most expensive Broadway show ever -- has endured four delays in its opening and four injuries to its cast. By some accounts, it is shaping up as the biggest entertainment flop since Kevin Costner's movie "Waterworld" or Warren Beatty's "Ishtar."

This week the latest mishap involved a stuntman falling off a high platform and being hospitalized with broken ribs. It marked a new low point for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" as a show was canceled and New York officials caused new safety measures to be put in place.

But through all the bad buzz, ticket sales for the musical, written by U2's Bono and The Edge, during preview performances have remained strong. And Broadway, perhaps more than any other entertainment genre, has a history of overcoming bad reviews and turning profits for tourist-friendly, big-budget shows.

Seth Gelblum, an entertainment lawyer who represents the show's director and co-creator Julie Taymor, as well as three major financiers, said investors were not jittery and predicted the key audience, tourists, would not be turned off.

There is precedent for Gelblum's confidence. Hit musicals such as "The Addams Family," "Wicked" and "The Phantom of the Opera" experienced problems in previews, underwent changes, then succeeded with long, profitable runs.

Still, some industry watchers predict the demise of "Spider-Man," including New York Post columnist Michael Riedel, who said that even when the acrobatics work, the show suffers from a lack of leadership, a confusing story and bad music.

"I would say that this is the epic disaster on Broadway of all time. There have been flops before, expensive flops," he told Reuters, noting Rosie O'Donnell and Boy George's "Taboo" a few seasons back.   Continued...