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Curtain up! Theatergoers see ‘Spider-Man’ return

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NEW YORK — Curtain up! Light the lights! Spider-Man returned to the stage Thursday, a day after two performances were canceled due to a scary fall that left a stuntman seriously injured.

But the $65 million question remained: Will new precautions allow the cast of Broadway's costliest show to hit the heights in nearly 40 aerial maneuvers safely, avoiding another dangerous accident that could permanently shutter the show?

Before the show could resume Thursday, producers had to give final confirmation to the state Department of Labor that they had enacted certain safety measures aimed at avoiding any further mishaps. Among them: a requirement that a second person ensure the harnesses used by performers during the show's high-flying stunts have been put on properly at the Foxwoods Theatre at Manhattan's Times Square.

Producer Michael Cohl went on stage at the opening and said he was glad the show was back. He said the hospitalized stuntman, who had been facing back surgery, "came through with flying colors." He thanked the crowd and warned: "No one should attempt to catch a ride" with flying actors.

It was clear from the line at the box office Thursday afternoon that business was booming for the return of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

"We're sold out until Jan. 2," a ticket seller told a steady stream of buyers.

Some folks had tickets already but wanted to check that the evening's show would go on as planned, since both Wednesday's matinee and evening performance had been canceled.

"They gave us a number to call later, just to make sure," said Mike Foux, of Allentown, Pa.

An avid Spider-Man fan since childhood, he had come to New York to see the show with his wife, Patti, and 20-year-old daughter, Jessie, for his birthday. He echoed what many fans were saying: All the controversy had made the show that much more exciting to see.

"I was thinking, with four accidents happening, there must be some truly amazing stunts," Foux said.

"Of course, nobody wants to see anyone get hurt," his wife added quickly.

That's what worried another ticketholder, Victoria Shaw-Locknar, who was attending Thursday's show with her daughters Ruby, 11, and Ava, 9.

"Actually, I'm really nervous," Shaw-Locknar said before the show. "I don't want them to see anyone get hurt. I think it's sick, people who say they want to see that."

But she figured that producers must have worked out the kinks. Besides, she added, attending the show would be experiencing a piece of history: "We'll be seeing either the biggest future hit or the biggest flop!"

The much-anticipated production of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," teaming "Lion King" creator Julie Taymor with U2 songwriters Bono and The Edge, has had a bumpy ride to Broadway. Already the most expensive show in Broadway history, it has been plagued by technical glitches, money woes and three other injuries, including a concussion and two broken wrists.

The cast and crew of the musical spent Wednesday and Thursday rehearsing the new safety precautions.

The show has been in previews for a month, and its official Broadway opening has twice been postponed. It is now set for early February.

The fourth accident came Monday night, when Christopher W. Tierney, a stunt double playing Spider-Man, plunged about 30 feet into a stage pit, despite a safety harness that should have prevented the spill.

James J. Claffey, Jr., president of Local One IATSE, the stage employees union, said Thursday in a statement that his group "is confident in the additional safety protocols."

"'Spider-Man' is the most challenging musical production in the history of Broadway," he said. "For all the advanced technical equipment used in today's Broadway shows, the shows are still performed and run by human beings. The human element cannot be taken out of live theater, and the Broadway theater is a strictly choreographed system of actors, stage managers, technicians and machines."

Maureen Cox, director of safety and health for the Department of Labor, said the investigation into Tierney's accident is continuing. Investigators said they are looking into whether it was caused by equipment failure or human error.

"We're also making sure that the actors and the stagehands know that if everything is not right, they can say, 'We're not going to go,'" Cox said.

Tierney's brother Patrick, who came down from New Hampshire to see Tierney through back surgery, said his brother would be released from a hospital Friday or Saturday and would complete his recovery at home in New Hampshire. He said his brother is in "as good spirits as he can be," is expected to make a full recovery and will surely return to the stage.

"He's a dancer. He landed on his feet. If he didn't land on his feet, he wouldn't be with us," said Patrick Tierney, of Plaistow, N.H. "He has a strong body and an amazing attitude."

Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.