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Theater

Even as 'Spider-Man' leaves Broadway, a part of it remains

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

Before Spider-Man takes his final bow on Broadway this weekend, the show is swinging into history in another way.

Producers of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” said Thursday that the Smithsonian Institution is inducting one of the hero's first costumes into the permanent collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington.

The red-and-blue costume designed by Eiko Ishioka and worn by actor Reeve Carney will join a collection of iconic Americana that boasts the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” a Kermit the Frog puppet, the first car driven across the United States, a lock of Sir Walter Scott's hair, Tony Hawk's first skateboard and a light bulb made by Thomas Edison.

“The Smithsonian is the gatekeeper when it comes to the American popular culture canon, so this feels like a kind of coronation for all of us,” said Michael Cohl, a lead producer.

Ishioka, an Academy Award-winner who designed surrealistic costumes for such films as “Mirror Mirror,” “The Cell” and Francis Ford Coppola's “Dracula,” earned a Tony nomination for her big, bold costumes for “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” including the tricky task of freshening Spider-Man's iconic look.

To make it, Ishioka, who died in 2012, came up with a new spider design on the costume's chest and had to make sure her new suit didn't stray too far from Marvel Comic's signature look, according to Tracy Roberts, Ishioka's studio manager.

Ishioka ignored the comic book's Crayola-like blue and red for a sophisticated ombre effect in which shades of color graduate from light to dark or dark to light. A close look at Spider-Man's suit reveals many variations of color as the red arms gradually bleed into the blue legs. “She wanted to make it her own, and I think she achieved that in a really great way by painting within the lines but really giving it her own spin,” said Roberts.

Roberts, who is eager for the general public to appreciate Ishioka's diverse designs legacy, said the Smithsonian's honor is a “wonderful way to recognize her body of work.” Among Ishioka's accomplishments were the sets and costumes for David Henry Hwang's 1988 drama “M. Butterfly” and the costumed for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

“It's wonderful that this great designer from Japan who has done so many different international design projects would find her work at this incredibly iconic American place,” said Roberts. “It's a great honor.”

“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” — Broadway's most expensive show, with a price tag of $75 million — had a rocky start, with six delays in its opening night, injuries to several actors, a shake-up that led to the firing of original director Julie Taymor and critical drubbing.

But the musical, with songs by U2's Bono and The Edge, became a hit in 2011 and was among Broadway's biggest earners until springing a leak this summer. It closes Saturday after having played 1,268 performances and grossing more than $200 million. Next stop: Las Vegas.

Though the timing of the Smithsonian's honor coincides with the show's closing, Cohl waves away any suggestion that it is a vindication for the beleaguered cast and crew.

“I don't know if I'd call it vindication, but it's very satisfying. Theater is such an ephemeral art form — which is what makes it so thrilling and so frustrating. No matter how long it runs in Las Vegas, or how many cities it plays, it's still impermanent. So there is something very satisfying about knowing a piece of our show will be preserved forever.”

Mark Kennedy is a drama writer for the Associated Press.

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