PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 18-24: Spider-Man, Marcia Lewis and a New Chapter for Cherry Lane

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 18-24: Spider-Man, Marcia Lewis and a New Chapter for Cherry Lane
 
The cast and crew of the troubled multi-million-dollar musical Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark had precious little time for Christmas shopping this week.

Christopher Tierney
Christopher Tierney

This high-flying, high-spending, high-grossing (houses have been good during the never-ending preview period) Julie Taymor musical has had its bad weeks. But none has been as bad as this one. Here's how it went down. At the Dec. 20 performance, the actor Christopher Tierney became the latest cast member to endure an injury while performing the show. He is an ensemble member/stunt double for the aerobatic title character in the Broadway show, and that night he fell from a raised platform into a pit in the stage of the Foxwoods Theatre, sustaining injuries that required hospitalization. The story was such that it made the nightly news and cable stations such as CNN. Soon after, came the first of what would become a flurry of press releases from Actors' Equity. The second missive said the union was working with management and the Department of Labor to ensure that performances would not resume until back-up safety measures were in place.

On Dec. 21, safety inspectors from the New York State Department of Labor visited the theatre to examine the equipment that appeared to malfunction at the Dec. 20 preview. The Department of Labor's safety inspectors had approved all 27 flying sequences in the new musical back in November. Equity released a statement saying that the case of the accident was human error, and that "further protocols are now being implemented, including redundancies recommended by Equity, the DOL and OSHA, to address this situation as well as other elements of the production." Meanwhile, Tierney remained in critical condition at Bellevue Hospital.

A scene from Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
photo by Jacob Cohl

Later on Dec. 21, it was announced that performances would resume the evening of Dec. 22. But the next day the evening performance, too, was cancelled in order to rehearse additional safety protocols. Said a spokesman, all 41 maneuvers that involve a tether, rope or wire attached to a harness will now be supervised by at least two stagehands. The first stagehand will make the attachment; the second stagehand will verify that the connection has been made and will also alert the stage manager that it is safe to proceed. The actor involved in the maneuver will also perform a self check and has the right to say if he or she still feels unprepared to perform this stunt; in fact, the spokesperson said, actors are encouraged to speak up if they do not feel safe.

By mid-week, Broadway actors like Alice Ripley and Adam Pascal were voicing their opposition to the dangers of the production on Twitter and Facebook. And it was becoming a political football as well. Assemblyman Rory I. Lancman, a Democrat of Queens and the chairman of the New York State Assembly’s subcommittee on workplace safety, voiced concern about the production. 

*** There was bad news at the Cherry Lane Theatre, one of the city's oldest and most historic theatre buildings.

Angelina Fiordellisi, the executive director, and founding artistic director of the not-for-profit producing group Cherry Lane Alternative, put the Greenwich Village building up for sale.

Fiordellisi bought the dormant theatre—once a flashpoint for the Off-Broadway movement, offering O'Neill, Beckett, Pinter, Albee, Sam Shepard and more—for $1.7 million in 1996 and renovated it for $3 million. The asking price is expected to be about $12 million. Financial struggles, including a $250,000 deficit, led to the producer's decision.

All told, another blow to the flagging Off-Broadway scene.

***

Michael Korie and Scott Frankel
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Playwrights Horizons has commissioned Grey Gardens songwriters Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, and playwright Richard Greenberg, to create a musical version of the 2002 film "Far From Heaven." The Todd Haynes picture was a modern homage to the 1950s filmic tradition of socially aware melodramas of the kind made by Douglas Sirk ("Imitation of Life," "Magnificent Obsession"). It starred Julianne Moore as a seemingly happy Hartford wife whose life is turned upside-down by her husband's closeted homosexuality, as well as her new friendship with the black man who tends her garden and lawn.

***

Finally, Marcia Lewis, the brassy and beloved musical star of hit Broadway revivals of Grease! and Chicago, died in Nashville, where she lived, in the early hours of Dec. 21. She was 72. A trouper since the 1960s, she earned her greatest acclaim in what was nearly her last role, that of the ballsy Matron "Mama" Morton who oversees the lady murderers Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart in Chicago. Nightly, she brought down the house with her rendition of "When You're Good to Mama."

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