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'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark' Superfans Keep The Show Afloat

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NEW YORK -- Christine Antosca is something of a hero to the folks behind "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

The 28-year-old New Yorker and Starbucks barista really liked the musical when she first saw it in May. In fact, she adored it: She has now seen it 46 times – and counting. "It draws me back every single week I see it," she says.

How many more times does Antosca plan to see the show? Her answer will put a smile on the faces of producers as they seek to earn back their $75 million investment. "My goal is to keep going as long as the play is still around," she says.

Superfans such as Antosca, who regularly tweets about the show and discusses ticket promotions on Facebook, have helped keep alive Broadway's most expensive show, which this week celebrates the one-year anniversary of its first preview. Who expected that endurance last winter?

Repeat customers and celebrity fans that spread the word – a group that includes political commentator Glenn Beck and actress Poppy Montgomery (TV's "Unforgettable" and "Without a Trace") – are one reason Spider-Man still flies at the Foxwoods Theatre.

"I'm a huge fan of boldness. I am a huge fan of people thinking outside of the box. I am a huge fan of stories of triumph and reaching in and finding more than you even think you have inside of you. This has all of those elements," says Beck, who estimates that he's seen the show about a dozen times, even though he's not a huge fan of its composers, U2's Bono and The Edge.

Though box-office numbers have softened somewhat over the past few months, the show is hitting the holiday season on a high, offering one of the few Broadway shows geared for the whole family. It set a new box-office record for the 1,930-seat theater by grossing $2,070,000 for the week ending Sunday.

Producers say it has been seen by more than 600,000 people over the past year, but Montgomery and her son may skew those numbers. At Sunday's matinee, where the first-year anniversary was celebrated with the on-stage presentation of a 7-foot cake in the shape of the Chrysler Building, the actress was again catching the show with 3 1/2-year-old son Jackson. They've seen "Spider-Man" 13 times.

"It's become a tradition," she says. "It's almost like the circus. There's so much to it. And the music is amazing and he loves music. Anything that I can do to encourage that – even if it means sitting through a 3-hour show 13 times – I will do."

Virtually every Broadway show has hard-core fans: The wonderfully campy roller-skating musical "Xanadu" birthed so-called "Fanadus," "Rent" was known for its "Rent-heads," "Wicked" has its girl groupies and even "Next to Normal" – a musical about bipolar disorder – had repeaters. What makes "Spider-Man" unusual is fans' loyalty despite the high level of turbulence behind the scenes.

One man has seen it at least 53 times and four women have attended 30 shows each, says Michael Cohl, one of the lead producers, who thinks there might be one patron who has seen it over 100 times.

"I love the superfans," he says. "I think they're incredible. They see things in the show that I don't even see. There's a certain enthusiasm for life that a lot of us lose and I see it in those people every time I run into them. It's an enthusiasm I wish I had all the time."

Ticket buyers have kept coming, even though cast-members were being injured. They ignored the six delays in opening night and the record-breaking preview period with high ticket prices. They continued even though there had been loud complaints about the muddled plot and theater critics trashed it.

The fans even kept entering the Foxwoods Theatre doors following a shake-up that led to the firing of Julie Taymor, the co-book writer and director, who has now sued her former employers over copyright issues. They lined up although the show quickly became a punch-line for late-night comics

Despite the bad press – or because of it – patrons have been curious. "I always wanted to see it," says Antosca, who relies on same-day discount tickets for her weekly fix. "Even when the bad reviews were coming out, I always knew I still wanted to check it out for myself."

Says Montgomery: "If you see it through the eyes of a child, the critics don't matter."

Cohl and co-lead producer Jeremiah J. Harris say that besides the superfans, data on the audiences for "Spider-Man" show that half of all attendees had never been to a Broadway show before and more than half were from outside New York.

The positive box-office news – the show has consistently grossed more than the $1.2 million a week the producers have indicated they need to reach to stay viable – has helped persuade Harris and Cohl to keep the show in New York, forgoing for now schemes to tour it or franchise it.

Harris says he and Cohl look to "The Lion King" and "Wicked" as benchmarks. "We're a very young show, developing an audience, and the encouraging thing that we see is that we are able to expand our audience base and we see people leave the theater overwhelmingly happy," he says.

One of those is Montgomery and her son, a cheerful boy in constant motion, who will calmly sit through every performance even though he finds it hard sitting through an art class. "He won't go back to `Lion King' and he won't go back to `Mary Poppins.' He likes them but he probably won't go back again," she says. "This is all he talks about. It was all he talked about during `Lion King' – `When are we going to see Spider-Man?'"

Antosca, the superfan, knows the feeling, and producers have also noticed, rewarding her for her loyalty. On her 28th birthday in September, which she celebrated by – what else? – going to "Spider-Man," Antosca was surprised with a backstage party. She was ushered into a balloon-filled VIP room, given cake and got to meet Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker, and Jennifer Damiano, who played Mary Jane.

Beck, who in January raved that the show "is better than `Wicked!'" on his radio program, often returns to the Foxwoods Theatre because he thinks "Spider-Man" is a great place to bring out-of-town guests.

He says watching the earlier jerky version thrilled him, even though he conceded it was a mess. "I was enjoying watching them figure it out," he says. These days, with the show stable, Beck's ardor has cooled. But the last time he came, he brought his 7-year-old son as a birthday surprise, and left with a memory the show's creative team will adore.

"We sat there in the balcony in the cheapest seats. Spider-Man, at one point, jumps off the top of that balcony and right before he did – not because he knew it was my son, or anyone else but because he's Spider-Man – he looked at my son and saluted him and then jumped off the balcony," says Beck.

"On the way home, my son hugged me and he sat in my lap and he whispered in my ear, `Dad, this has been the greatest night of my life!' I wanted to say, `You're 7 – you don't have a lot to judge.' But it was a father-son moment that I will have with me for the rest of my life."

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