<i>Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark</i> loses a lead actress

The troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark received another blow this morning as word emerged that actress Natalie Mendoza, who suffered a concussion during the show's problem-filled first preview, is leaving the Broadway musical.

Citing anonymous sources, The New York Times reports that representatives for Mendoza, lawyers and producers of the show "have been hammering out an exit agreement for days" and "fine-tuning the language" to explain the actress' departure. An official announcement is expected later today.

Mendoza starred as Arachne, a villain created by director Julie Taymor who plays a major role in the revised origin of Spider-Man and later becomes obsessed with the superhero. The newspaper notes that Taymor worked closely with Mendoza to develop the character's look and mannerisms.

The 30-year-old actress, who was injured on Nov. 28 when a rope struck her in the head while she was standing offstage, hasn't performed since Dec. 20, when her friend and castmate Christopher Tierney was seriously injured in a fall. According to The Times, she has been on vocal rest, under doctors' orders. Mendoza's understudy America Olivo, who filled in for her during her two-week recovery from the concussion, is expected to step into the role of Arachne.

The loss of a lead actress this close to Spider-Man's scheduled Feb. 7 opening would be enough of a sting on its own. But it's particularly embarrassing following nearly a year of delays -- the show was to debut in March 2010 at one point -- money problems, the departures of the original Mary Jane and Green Goblin, four injuries -- two of them major -- and mounting criticism.

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