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‘Spider-Man’ keeps multiple balls in the air

Musical juggles performances and behind-the-scenes work

It’s well-established that Broadway tuner “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” will have obliterated the record for total preview performances by the time the musical is scheduled to open, March 15, after a series of delays. Creatives have repeatedly assured theatergoers that work is being done to hone the show in advance of opening while making sure that record doesn’t grow.

What’s less clear is how and when those tweaks and changes will get rehearsed and inserted into the show, given that “Spider-Man” has, after a couple of seven-perf weeks, returned to a full eight-preview weekly sked that leaves limited time for work outside the usually skedded performances.

“It’s more challenging, because it’s like working on a car that’s still moving,” says Glen Berger, who co-wrote the book of the tuner with helmer Julie Taymor.

Union regulations allow for only four or five hours of rehearsal during a day with an evening show. And in Broadway’s usual six-day-a-week sked, a pair of two-show days, usually Wednesday and Saturday, are too packed with performances to accommodate rehearsals. And, rather than call an awkwardly timed end-of-week rehearsal after the afternoon matinee, Sundays are generally out too.

That leaves the other three days — Tuesday, Thursday and Friday — to ADD shoehorn a maximum rehearsal time of 15 hours a week.

The extended preview period, of course, also necessitates additional expenses to pay for the labor hours that go into enacting changes, although according to producer Michael Cohl, it’s relatively little extra when compared to a capitalization pricetag that had already swelled to $65 million.

But on a complicated show with as many moving parts as “Spider-Man,” change comes slowly.

“We’re not taking apart any of the big sequences, but there’s plans in the works for two or three more major changes,” says C. Randall White, who, as head of the show’s team of seven production stage managers, must slot a rehearsal sked into full performance weeks.

According to White, two fresh aerial sequences (one new, one a version of an old seg), some restaging, the reinsertion of a few old scenes, the cutting of others and some musical tweaks are on the list of things to be done.

That adds up to a lot of rehearsal hours. “Even if it’s a 10-second change in a scene, it can eat up an hour or two of tech time,” Berger says.

One aerial sequence recently added to the end of the show sees Peter Parker executing a number of swings around the theater and over the audience. There’s also a curtain-call flourish that brings Peter, played by Reeve Carney, down to the stage dangling upside-down.

The entire seg required new lighting, music, scenery sequencing and an additional hook-up move for the crew in order to secure Carney to his harness. The fresh material also necessitated backstage changes earlier in the show to ensure the harness would be prepped and placed correctly.

The most time, in White’s estimation, was spent on programming the computer system that operates the aerial movement. Training Carney, his understudy and the crew to perform the new sequence took a couple of afternoons.

The sequence just prior to the new aerial move, a battle set in the web of villainness Arachne, is also one that has undergone a fair share of work. After a couple of different attempts didn’t come together for tech reasons, the idea was reconceived and a working version staged in its place until the latest incarnation made its debut last week.

The additional safety precautions required in the wake of the now-famous onstage injury in December haven’t proven much of an extra burden to the running of the show, according to White, who says there were only a handful of moments in the show in which the necessary double-checks and redundancies weren’t already in place.

Work that remains to be done is spread over both acts, according to the collaborators, with a special emphasis on the show’s final 10 minutes. They declined to give specifics. “As with any show, there’s always a list that is never completely gotten through,” says Berger.

But producer Cohl doesn’t anticipate pushing the show’s opening date any later than it already has been. “I am confident,” he says. “We’ve got a New York opening on March 15, and we’ll open.”

By that time, the production will have had the actors onstage with full tech elements for six months. While that’s unusual for Broadway, it’s not for the stunt-heavy Cirque attractions that have staked out the Vegas market.

Still, extended weeks of rehearsal hours can strain a running production’s cast and crew, which in turn has the potential to slow down the incorporation of changes as schedulers work to avoid overtaxing the participants.

If and when the show opens March 15, the cast can at least look forward to a work sked that’s a little less hectic. But not so much the stage managers and the crew — who will be required to rehearse and incorporate new performers as the production’s cast begins to turn over.

“Maintaining the show is going to be as difficult as mounting it,” White says. “We won’t have to deal with changes, but we will have to deal with teaching. It’ll never get a whole lot simpler.”

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