Edelman: Batman Live Delivers, Foreshadows Possible Spider-Man Arena Tour

I have seen the future of live theater, and it is BATMAN LIVE

Or maybe not. As a long-time Broadway buff, I’m not the likeliest guy to set foot inside the cavernous Sprint Center to get a song and dance fix. But BATMAN LIVE – now thru Sunday at he Sprint Center – may be where the art form is headed after all.

Sub-titled “World Arena Tour,” BATMAN LIVE is one part circus, two parts Cirque Du Soleil  and three parts Comicon sideshow. The two hour opus trots out a slew of villains– the Riddler, the Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face and the rest–as it spins its genesis tale of young Dick
Grayson, who becomes the Dark Knight’s sidekick Robin. There’s a plot, characters, action,
dialogue— yep, just like at KC Rep, Starlight or the Unicorn. Only on steroids.  

Creative Director Anthony Van Laast, who choreographed the megahit MAMMA MIA and that weird, Armani-heavy JESUS CHRIST SUPERTAR Broadway flop of a few seasons back, has shaped an old-fashioned theater piece out of the DC Comics oeuvre with help from TV scribe Allan Heinberg and co-Director James Powell.  It’s a pantomime– that fun-for-the-whole-family theater tradition of Van Laast’s UK youth– a morality play with characters like Puss In Boots and lots of leering bad-guys waving delightedly to the audience before they meet their fates.

No wonder it’s touring during the holidays.

But this throwback to English music hall has a cool Batmobile that makes a nice screeching entrance; ever-changing scenery, artfully rendered on a 105 foot screen by video producer Sam Pattinson and his crew; and a big symphonic score by James Seymour Brett, who orchestrated previous Sprint visitor “Walking With Dinosaurs” (still humming that score?).

Something called The Circus Space–sort of a Cirque DuSoleil training ground in London– provides plenty of high wire spectacle, first introducing Dick’s aerialist parents (cut down in the prime of life by the Joker), then staging flying fisticuffs between Batman and Catwoman, Batman and the Joker, etc.  So keep you head up.

Judging by the Friday matinee crowd with whom I saw the show, BATMAN LIVE’s producers are banking on the Disney on Ice family audience. Most of the material is above the little tykes. Batman’s finale lip lock with Catwoman–in fact, the whole arc of their relationship— plays more like a CW dramedy than a Nickelodeon half hour.

Though there’s musical accompaniment throughout, nobody sings a song, which seemed an oversight to me. Several pregnant pauses provided the perfect opportunity to break into ballad. Yeah, it would have lost the little ones, who were already fidgeting enough. But you could see the possibilities.

I liked the notorious SPIDER-MAN on Broadway; of course, that show is a musical, complete with score by Bono and the Edge.

Sitting there in the Sprint stands, it struck me that that huge production– all the flying, bigger-than-life scenic elements– may never make it to the Kauffman or the Music Hall. But. like BATMAN LIVE,  it could be coming to an arena near you.

Let’s hope WAITING FOR GODOT doesn’t follow.

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