NEW YORK (AP) — The actor badly hurt when he tumbled from the stage at the Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" returned to the theater for the first time since his accident, going backstage to wish the castmembers good luck and then watching Friday's performance from the safety of the orchestra seats.
"It's what I've been waiting for for the past two weeks — to see my friends and finally watch the show," Christopher Tierney told The Associated Press after the performance. Wearing a pea coat, a scarf and a back brace decorated with Spider-Man stickers, he said it was "awesome" to be back.
Tierney's appearance came 18 days after he fell 35 feet into the orchestra pit in front of a shocked preview audience when his safety harness failed. The 31-year-old suffered a fractured skull, a fractured shoulder blade, four broken ribs and three broken vertebrae during his Dec. 20 tumble.
The $65 million show officially opens Feb. 7 at the Foxwoods Theatre in Times Square and has been plagued by technical glitches, cancellations, money woes and injuries to three other actors. Last month, a lead actress bowed out.
Tierney has blamed his injuries on a freak accident and doesn't accuse the producers or the creative team of carelessness. The team is led by Tony Award-winning director and book co-writer Julie Taymor of "Lion King" fame.
Castmate Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker, called Tierney's return a "miracle" after Friday's performance, which was delayed twice for technical reasons. "He's got the most positive attitude of anyone I've ever met," said Carney. "It's definitely a morale booster."
Jennifer Damiano, who plays Mary Jane Watson, said she and Tierney met at a restaurant before the show and having him back was an emotional moment. "His presence surely propelled us through," she said.
Tierney, who was discharged Wednesday from The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, arrived about 45 minutes before the start of the show to a scrum of reporters and two young women holding up a sign that read "Chris T. has Superpowers."
He slipped into the theater, greeted castmates before the curtain was raised and extended the traditional theatrical expression of wishing they "break a leg." He then settled into his seat about 10 rows from the stage.
The fall that left Tierney in a back brace and with eight screws in his back happened only seven minutes before the end of the Dec. 20 performance. Dressed as Spider-Man, Tierney, who that night had already swung multiple times at 40 mph and wrestled with the Green Goblin over the audience, simply jumped from a raised platform as the show was wrapping up. But he wasn't connected to anything.
Cell phone video captured the fall. "I had seen it on TV over and over and over again. People don't show it, they show it four times and then they show the super slow-Mo version," he said, laughing. "So I've seen it and I was cool."
After Friday's show, Tierney recalled watching from the orchestra seats the very same stunt that had so badly injured him. As an audience member, he realized how high the platform had lifted him when he was a performer.
"Tonight, as the thing's going up, and it keeps on going, keeps on going, I was like, 'Wow.' I kind of felt like a tang of pride. I was like, 'That's right — I fell from that!' And I'm going to see it two weeks later."
"Spider-Man" was Tierney's Broadway debut. He had previously worked with the Houston Ballet, Ballet New England and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, danced in the national tour of Twyla Tharp's "Movin' Out" and appeared in the North American premiere of "Dirty Dancing" in Toronto.
He had already worked with both Taymor and "Spider-Man" choreographer Daniel Ezralow in the film "Across the Universe" and was this time cast in a number of roles in addition to doing the main Spider-Man aerial stunts. He also played the part of a super villain, a bully who torments Peter Parker and a dancer.
For now, three different actors are combining to fill Tierney's vacancy, including Joshua Kobak and Ari Loeb. Eventually, producers hope only one performer will once again play all the parts until Tierney heals enough to return.
"He had so much stuff he was doing in the show that it took three guys to replace him," said Reeve.
As for Tierney, he said his rehabilitation is going well and that he wants to soon return to the Spider-Man stage, not just the seats.
"Hopefully, I'm back in a good amount of time," he said.Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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