The Spider-Man musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was no stranger to dramatic controversy, not only did it cost a lot of money but several of its actors were injured whilst attempting one of the many dangerous and elaborate stunts. One of the actors that were injured during the musical’s tenure was Chris Broughton who fell 30ft as Spider-Man. Broughton has told the story of the horrorfying experience through the Guardian.
Spider-Man was always the superhero I most identified with. I was four when I first appeared as him in public. There’s a photo of me in Spidey pyjamas, my face painted, being held up by a Spider-Man impersonator in the local shopping centre.
Even then, my parents described me as a “mover”, and at 16 I left school to concentrate on dancing. It was while working on the film Across The Universe in my 20s that I heard about plans for a Spider-Man stage musical. I knew I wanted to be involved.
At the end of 2008 I got the call: the production – the most expensive and technically ambitious to be attempted on Broadway – was to go ahead. I was to help develop the choreography and appear onstage in various roles. Auditions began for a lead dancer to perform Spider-Man’s more audacious stunts, including a fight scene in which he had to swing across the auditorium and land on a tiny platform attached to the balcony, right in front of the audience. No one quite got it, and in the end I asked if I could have a go. I hit the platform perfectly, in the iconic crouch, web-firing palm outstretched. I held the pose for a moment, knowing I’d nailed it. The auditions ended right there.
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark was a joy to work on. We cooked up death-defying flying stunts using crisscrossing wires and multiple stunt performers, but I always had faith in my own skills and trusted the abilities of the stage hands and crew.
Ending the show was a “dream sequence”, set on Brooklyn bridge, beneath which Spider-Man’s love interest, Mary Jane, had been suspended by his arch enemy, the Green Goblin. The scene was meant to end with Mary Jane falling as I ran to save her, stopping at the edge as the lights blacked out. Compared with the show’s aerial set pieces, this was very straightforward, though I wore a hidden harness. I’d checked this was attached correctly.
Securing the other end of the line was someone else’s job, though, and it was only as I reached the brink that I realised with a start there was no tension on the wire. The “bridge” was a hydraulic ramp raised above the audience; below it was an open pit through which props and actors entered and exited the stage. The combined drop was over 30ft. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to stop, I reached down, praying there would be something I could grab. There was nothing. As I sailed into space, I was overwhelmed by a sense of serenity. As images of me as a child flashed through my consciousness, I twisted to avoid landing head first. In that instant, I felt at peace, thinking “If I go now, I’ll have no regrets.”
Then I hit the deck hard, the ground slamming into my back. At first there was silence. Then I became aware of someone sobbing nearby – an actor who had been waiting to go onstage. I’d fallen at her feet and she assumed I was dead. There was no pain yet. I wiggled my toes and knew I wasn’t paralysed. But another terror stabbed at my heart: “I can’t see,” I said. “I’m blind.” Someone peeled off my mask – it had come askew.
Many audience members assumed the fall was a deliberate stunt, until the lights came on and they were ushered out of the theatre. By the time I was carried to a waiting ambulance, a crowd had assembled. A cheer went up as I raised an arm and gave a Spidey salute, though the other arm lay limp at my side. The pain had really started to kick in.
I had a hairline crack in the back of my skull, a broken scapula, smashed elbow, three fractured vertebrae and four broken ribs, plus a bruised lung. I’d walk again, but I wouldn’t be swinging from webs for six months. Nevertheless, getting back on stage became my focus. The guy who’d been in charge of my harness came to visit, beside himself, but I bore him no ill will – we were all working under pressure and any one of us could have made a mistake. My accident resulted in stricter safety controls, which made it easier to persuade my parents and friends that going back was a good idea.
In the end, it took only four months. I felt reinvigorated, truly superhuman, almost strengthened by the accident. I had no fear of repeating the scene that had led to my downfall. During the first run-through, I performed a cartoonish, slow-motion stumble as I approached the edge, only to hear the director’s voice booming from the shadows: “Not cool, Christopher. Not cool.”
I hope you guys enjoyed that, I thought it was a pretty interesting story that just goes to show that with great power comes great responsibility…
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