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'Spider-Man' dark Wednesday amid safety woes

Spider-Man is suspended in the air in a

Spider-Man is suspended in the air in a scene from the musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," in New York. Credit: AP

Spider-Man didn't fly again last night.

Producers of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" canceled Wednesday night's performance in order to make safety changes. Rick Miramontez, spokesman for the injury-plagued, $65-million mega-musical, said the show, which also canceled Wednesday's matinee, will resume previews Thursday night. He denied media reports that the show was closed indefinitely.

In a conference call Wednesday, the New York State Department of Labor said its investigators had worked all day with director Julie Taymor, and the show's production manager and stage manager to strengthen the safety protocols involving 38 sequences in the show that involve tethers and harnesses.

The investigation began after Christopher Tierney, an aerialist who doubles for the actor playing Spider-Man, fell off a 30-foot platform during Monday's preview. Tierney's brother told The Associated Press that Tierney underwent back surgery.

Also Wednesday, Rory L. Lancman, chair of the New York State Assembly's subcommittee on workplace safety, called on the show's producers to stop all performances until the safety concerns are addressed.

In a letter to lead producer Michael Cohl, Lancman expressed "grave concern about the recurring safety problems" at the technically complex musical. He asked for a meeting to discuss the "danger to actors, theater employees and audience members," which he said have reached "unacceptable levels," and said the subcommittee is contemplating a hearing on the safety issues.

Maureen Cox, director of Safety and Health for the state Department of Labor, described a system of "redundancies," or backups, intended to "tighten up the controls around that type of maneuver." Previously, one stagehand attached the tether for the actor. Now a second stagehand or operator will verify the connection and tell the stage manager "that it is clear."

Also, the actor will do a "self-check" to make sure that he or she is properly attached. "The production company has indicated to us that the actors are encouraged to tell if they don't feel safe or don't feel prepared to go," said Cox.

Although Actors' Equity Association said Tuesday that Tierney's accident was caused by "human error," Cox mentioned "safety and health system failures," adding that the investigation into the accident is not complete.

Philip Smith, president of the Shubert Organization, which is not involved in the show, told Newsday that he is rooting for it on several levels. "I feel terribly bad for those people," he said. "Aside from my honest human emotion, I don't believe its failure would be good for the industry."

Ticket holders for the canceled matinee and evening performances who purchased tickets through Ticketmaster will be automatically refunded and should contact the agency to buy tickets for another performance at the same price with similar locations. Other customers should contact their point of purchase.

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