Can Spider-Man Fly on Broadway?

It's Broadway's juiciest backstage drama in years: Can the new Spider-Man musical overcome its troubles and soar?

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Sara Krulwich / The New York Times / Redux

A scene from the musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark during a rehearsal in New York City

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Spider-Man's public travails began in mid-2009, when the costly show ran out of money and had to postpone an opening originally set for February 2010. A new producer, Michael Cohl — a promoter of rock extravaganzas for U2 and the Rolling Stones — eventually came on board, lined up more investors and got the show back on track. Then, as the technically demanding rehearsals began, came tales of mishaps, technical snafus and "chaos" — as a New York Post columnist put it — behind the scenes. Two cast members suffered bone fractures while performing stunts, and co-star Natalie Mendoza, who sustained a concussion in November after some scenery conked her on the head backstage, has just announced she is leaving the show.

Taymor, who since The Lion King has flitted between theater (The Green Bird), opera (The Magic Flute) and movies (The Tempest), is weary of defending her show against the doomsayers. Though "devastated" by Tierney's fall, she points out that injuries to dancers are hardly uncommon in theater; the New York State department of labor, which returned after the accident, has given the safety O.K. to all of Spider-Man's stunts. Expense? Some Cirque du Soleil shows — a better comparison, Taymor claims, than conventional musicals — cost upwards of $100 million and take at least a year to rehearse. Besides, The Lion King was the most expensive Broadway musical of its day and has since grossed an estimated $742 million.

"Where are we going with this money thing?" asks Taymor. "Just see if the show works. The people who invested in this want the show we're creating. In a recession, we actually are keeping a lot of people working. So if the [critics] are happy to see it fail, they're happy to see Broadway fail."

Also a little blindsided by the bad vibes is Bono, who was first shown the idea for a Spider-Man musical by producer Tony Adams (who died of a stroke in 2005, just as the contracts were being signed — surely the gods' first warning signal). Bono and his songwriting partner, U2 guitarist the Edge, had been wanting to take a stab at musical theater, a genre long snubbed by rock composers. "We have to go humbly before the Broadway community, because they have a tradition that goes back way before us," says Bono, who grew up amid Dublin's theater scene and as a kid loved musicals like Oliver! "We really feel we've a shot at something very special here — if they give us a chance. If they want that kind of influx of new energy and talent out there."

The bad publicity has had at least one positive effect: performances are selling out. Still, Taymor has much work to do. She has jammed a lot into the show — Greek mythology (she has added the character of Arachne, the expert weaver turned into a spider by the jealous goddess Athena), favorite villains like the Green Goblin, a "geek chorus" that comments on much of the story, dream sequences, some 45 scene changes and perhaps more plot than the audience (Taymor is coming to realize) is able to grasp. "This is a musical that's got surrealism and poetic concepts woven into a drama," she says. "So it is a tall order." Of course, Taymor didn't revolutionize Broadway by thinking small. But audiences aren't going to crown her a superhero once again unless she can get this Spider-Man to fly.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 10, 2011 issue of TIME.

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