What has eight legs but can't yet run? 'Spider-Man' on Broadway

The Spider-Man franchise has found itself entangled in a web of its own making.

After months of speculation over the future of the extraordinarily expensive Broadway musical bearing the superhero's name, the team behind it has admitted that it is still not audience-ready - and postponed its opening by three weeks, giving up an opening slot during the most lucrative period in the theatre-going year.

The delay has sparked a rash of new headlines about what has already been billed as the costliest, most over-the-top musical ever attempted on the Great White Way. But it's probably not the kind of publicity that Spidey would like. And it's only the latest in a long series of trouble and hiccups. The show, with music by Bono and The Edge of U2, was originally set to open in February this year.

Certainly, it's more than irritating news for people who had already bought tickets for November and are only now learning that the stage where they had expected to watch 'Spider-Man, Turn off the Dark', will precisely still be unlit. The latest schedule is for previews to begin on 28 November with the formal first night set for 11 January.

The initial damage to the production, which was already unusual because it will not have gone through the usual pre-Broadway try-outs in other American cities, may be substantial because the new opening dates mean it will miss the normally hectic Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, it will have its opening night in the post-Christmas period when tickets sales and tourist traffic in New York are traditionally sluggish. That is bad news for a show which desperately needs to get off to a good start if it is to have any hope of earning back its staggering budget of pounds 40 million, more than double the cost of any previous musical.

The problems appear to be manifold. Most importantly, however, the producers of the show have failed to procure the necessary permits for the aerial stunts that have been trumpeted in advance as the most daring audiences will ever have seen in musical theatre. According to several reports two actors have suffered injuries recently as mid-air stunts have gone awry.

"We made it clear that we need to see every manoeuvre before they are legally allowed to hold their first performance," the New York Department of Labour, which must issue the necessary permits, said in a statement. "This is a unique production, with an unprecedented amount of activity going on directly above audiences, so we want to see each one of those activities demonstrated."

But the safety of the high-wire acts is seemingly not the only issue keeping Spidey (aka Peter Parker), to be played by Reeve Carney, on terra firma. The New York Times said transitions between scenes are unfinished. Bono's music has not yet been synchronized with the dialogue and action. He and The Edge were at the theatre all last week working with director Julie Taymor, known as a perfectionist, and an all-important first run-through with a live orchestra is set for tomorrow.

While critics remain hopeful that Ms Taymor, the film and stage director who was behind Disney's Lion King, may still make good on her promise of a dazzling theatrical experiences, the delays are dangerous for a production that will need to have maximum box office impact if it is to have any chance of recouping the enormous investment.

"There's no doubt that the delay is a big problem in building and buffing the brand, and building up excitement and anticipation for the show," said Rick Kelley, vice president of Maxwell Group Entertainment, which makes group sales for Broadway. "The Spidey icon has never needed buzz before, but this show needs more of it. I feel sorry for the box office folks - they'll be losing money at the same time they're rebooking tickets like crazy."

Prospective audience members will be anxious in particular not to have worry about the safety of the performers - or even of themselves. The most daring of the promised stunts involves a cast member being launched from the stage and soaring over the orchestra seats to the theatre's rear. Were that to go wrong, as it has in rehearsal, injuries could potentially be incurred by both performer and theatre-goer alike.

"Shows like ours, that embrace the challenge of opening on Broadway without an out-of-town tryout, often need to adjust their schedules along the way," said producer Michael. Cohl. The production, he went on "has an unprecedented level of technical artistry, and getting it right takes time".