Broadway's "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has already become the most expensive show ever mounted on Broadway. Soon it may reach another milestone: The show stuck in previews the longest.
Producers delayed the $65 million show for the fourth time Thursday, pushing the opening date to March 15 to fine-tune and put in a new ending. Lead producer Michael Cohl promised this is "the final postponement."
The change means the show, when it opens, will break what is considered the record for most preview performances — 71 — held by Arthur Laurents' "Nick and Nora" in 1991. That may not bode well for the comic book hero, which has enjoyed 37 previews so far and now has more than a month of them to go: "Nick and Nora" lasted only a week after finally opening officially.
The "Spider-Man" musical — the dreamchild of "Lion King" director Julie Taymor with music by U2's Bono and The Edge — hasn't been hurt at the box office by the raft of injuries, cancellations, the defection of a lead actress, in-show delays and postponements.
The new opening delay doesn't really hurt the musical, whose costs easily dwarf Broadway's last costliest show, the $25 million "Shrek the Musical." Though producers are charging full-price for tickets, the show is still selling out the 1,930-seat Foxwoods Theatre in Times Square almost each night, and last week the webslinger tale took the week's box-office crown from the Oz musical "Wicked."
In a statement, Taymor said: "We are so grateful for the enthusiastic audiences who have been coming to see 'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark' and we are dedicated to giving them the very best show we can."
Once a show officially opens, it is considered frozen and no more tinkering is allowed. The latest delay was somewhat expected since a big, spectacular finale still seemed absent. Audiences at previews were also confused about the role of Arachne, Spider-Man's evil love interest.
Bono and The Edge, both newcomers to writing musicals, returned from touring this month to help fix the show's problems. In a statement, they said: "We are looking for the extraordinary here and we are nearly there."
The show has been built specifically for the Foxwoods Theatre, meaning a traditional out-of-town tryout to fix glitches wasn't possible. Cohl has said he considered delaying previews until the production had gelled better, but argued that the cast and crew had to bite the bullet eventually, even if they risked embarrassment and bad press.
The show's massive costs — a 41-member cast, 18 orchestra members, complicated sets and dozens of daring aerial stunts, including a battle between two characters over the audience — mean the theater will have to virtually sell out every show for several years just to break even. The weekly running bill has been put as high as $1 million. (Tickets are priced from $67.50-$135 for weekday performances and $67.50-$140 for weekend performances. Top premium seats go for more than $275.)
The delay is likely to re-ignite a simmering debate among theater critics about how to handle preview performances that stretch out for months. Already the lengthy delay to "Spider-Man" has prompted some critics to publish their own preliminary reviews, breaking a customary rule. They argued that the show was a legitimate news story and that the full-price cost of tickets meant audiences had a right to know what to expect.
One person who is championing the show is conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who has seen "Spider-Man" twice and is giving it glowing reviews both on the air and on his Twitter account. "This is better than 'Wicked!'" he raved Wednesday on "The Glenn Beck Program," which has an estimated 6 million listeners.
Years in the making, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" had financing woes before its first stunt was executed. Originally scheduled to open Dec. 21, the show was postponed to Jan. 11 and then to Feb. 7. Now it will be March.