'Spider-Man' Not First Broadway Musical Plagued By Injuries

'Wicked,' 'Fela!' also dealt with string of injuries to actors.

Spider-Man and his friends may be itching to swing their way onto Broadway, but a streak of set injuries during preview performances of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has pushed back the show's long-awaited debut.

A fourth injury on Monday caused a substantial change in safety measures on the set. The Wednesday (December 22) matinee performance was canceled with shows to resume as scheduled afterward. The official opening of the musical had already been delayed to February 7.

"Turn Off the Dark" isn't the first musical to incur a string of injuries, but it is one of the few to have so many occur before the show has its official Broadway opening. The musical "Wicked" also saw a streak of injuries early on in its career back in 2005. Kristin Chenoweth, as the good witch Glinda, hurt her neck during tryouts and had to wear a neck brace during part of her Broadway run, and leading lady Idina Menzel fell during one of her big sequences and broke several ribs. Then Kate Reinders, who played Glinda in the show's Chicago production, broke a foot during one of her songs.

More recently, the unsustainable amount of injuries on the set of "Fela!," a dance-intensive musical about Nigerian Afrobeat artist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, caused producer Stephen Hendel to cancel a Sunday-evening performance less than two weeks before the show was set to open on Broadway. The New York Times reported in December 2009 that a dance captain was out with a wrist injury, one ensemble member was taken to the emergency room after she was elbowed in the eye and another was suffering back spasms. The understudies were not prepared to perform without these members, so the December 13 show had to be canceled.

Maria Somma, spokesperson for the Actors' Equity Association, would not comment on how these injuries stack up against those experienced on "Turn Off the Dark" because of the privacy of their membership, but she did say that working in theater has its challenges. "You're working on a small set with a lot of people," she said. "You have limited wing space, and sometimes you've got about a hundred people backstage. It is extremely challenging."

In shows, there's more to deal with than the onstage choreography and acrobatics. The behind-the-scenes motions, such as how actors move backstage and how they get to their exits and entrances, are also highly choreographed. With all these moving parts, it sometimes is difficult to prevent people from being harmed. "There are instances where there are injuries, and we take injuries to our members extremely seriously," Somma said.

A team from Cirque du Soleil did part of the choreography for "Turn Off the Dark" and designed the harness system that allows Spider-Man and his friends to fly around the theater. It was while on a harness that Christopher Tierney, a stunt double and aerialist, was injured on Monday. A Cirque du Soleil spokesperson, Chantal Côté, was unwilling to compare the injuries on "Turn Off the Dark" to those sustained in Cirque shows, saying the "technical environment is different from ours."

But Somma explained that the hi-tech elements of these shows might be contributing to the increased injuries. "What we're dealing with is some very advanced technology and shows are employing technology more and more, and they keep pushing the limits," she said.