Growing technical complexity of musicals increases potential for injury

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The actor injuries that have plagued “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” have earned a spate of press attention. But bangs and bruises have always been a factor on the legit scene, especially for tech-heavy, innovative productions.

For one thing, Broadway tuners incorporate dance — and, not surprisingly, the physical exertions of dancers increase the potential they’ll get hurt.

Choreo-heavy musical “Fela!” was forced to cancel a performance last year when three dancers were unable to go on because each was nursing an injury. In spring, Karen Olivo broke her ankle during a performance of “West Side Story” and had to pull out.

Good old-fashioned stage combat also presents its share of risks.

Last season’s revival of “A View From the Bridge” was supposed to have co-starred Santino Fontana. But he was forced to withdraw when he got hurt in a fight scene during a preview perf. In fall, an actor in the Donmar Warehouse production of “Passion” was shot in the eye (necessitating he wear a patch for awhile) after a prop gun malfunctioned.

The growing technical complexity and sophistication of Broadway musicals only increases the likelihood of injury. Take, for instance, two of the shows that ushered in the era of tech-heavy spectacle, “Cats” and “Miss Saigon”: Both garnered some press for the physical therapists the productions hired to treat cast members.

More recently, an actor in technologically complicated musical “The Little Mermaid” took a much-publicized tumble, falling at least 20 feet through a trapdoor in an elevated platform, in a 2008 accident just prior to a matinee.

So the concussion suffered by “Spider-Man” actress Natalie Mendoza, as well as the broken wrists and other injuries that have befallen other cast members, seem a bit like business as usual for Broadway — and for the two separate labor orgs, thesp union Actors Equity Assn. and the New York State Dept. of Labor, that keep an eye on performer safety.

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