When I was a kid, I remember the idea of the arena show. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the Power Rangers, or any one of the hundreds of amazing kids shows that blew up during the nineties would inevitably have a stage show that toured the country, where kids got to see their heroes up close and personal - or at least as up close and personal as you can in a 60,000 seat arena. I always loved the concept. Anything you can do to bring something that kids love closer to reality in their eyes, so they can say "I met Michelangelo!" to the envy of all of their friends, is a win in my books. And as a kid, I always begged my parents to pay the exorbitant prices to go to one of these things, alas, to no avail.
So, imagine my inner-child's excitement when I first heard about Batman Live.
|It didn't actually go like this, but let's pretend it did.|
Let's start with a simple breakdown of what Batman Live is and what it isn't. The show follows the well known but seldom told story of Dick Grayson becoming Robin for the first time. Because of that plotline, the show is a mixture of traditional Batman storytelling and Cirque Du Soleil style arena-circus acrobatics. For something like Batman, that should work very well. Unfortunately, instead of the perfect marriage that brings the story to new heights, we get a very well told Batman story, and a very sub par circus.
A lot of credit needs to go to Allan Heinberg and the cast of performers that brings the story piece of the show to life. The characterization for every one of the iconic members of the Bat Family and Rogues Gallery is spot on. Harley Quinn and the Joker do their best to ape their animated series counterparts, and it thankfully works brilliantly. Alfred has a dry wit that is actually laugh out loud funny, Dick is wide eyed and full of wonder, and Catwoman slinks about the stage purrrfectly.
|I can't resist puns. I'm so sorry.|
|These are not those costumes. Silly Google Image Search.|
With the incredible set and costume design, and the great script, you have a top notch Batman stage play. Hell, I would have paid just to watch these characters talk to each other for two hours. But, this is a Batman show, and that means we've got to get to the action eventually. The show has four or five huge action sequences in it, all involving the circus performers getting to show off their skills. Add that to the Flying Graysons showing off their trapeze artistry and the Penguin's personal aerialist entertaining the villains in the Iceberg Lounge, and you have a lot of time in the show where the acrobats get to take center stage.
I only wish they were worthy of it. I admit, I've probably been spoiled a little bit by the Cirque du Soleil shows that I've seen. Living this close to Las Vegas means I can get down there and see a high quality circus show for cheap pretty much whenever I want, and those performances are in a permanent space, not a tour. But as I watched the aerialist wrap herself up with her hands while the Penguin desperately tried to distract us so she could do the big fall that comes at the end of every one of those routines, I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed. I've seen aerialists in Ren Faires and small restaurant performances who've done far more impressive routines with far less resources and far smaller audiences. The same rang true for the trapeze artists and the stage acrobats.
The costume designs aren't helping the action either. Based on designs by Jim Lee, the suits for the villains and regular cast members are spot on and beautiful. Unfortunately, someone decided to take poor Batman and Robin and put them into Joel Schumaker level "can't raise your arms" armored suits.
|Bruce...I can't move.|
I would be remiss, too, if I didn't mention the brief show stoppage for technical difficulties as the Batmobile came out for the first time, but honestly, at this point that feels like nitpicking.
All of that said, even with sub-par circus acts, technical difficulties that stopped the show, and bulky suits, this was still a live Batman show, and you couldn't have knocked the smile off my face with a thousand hammers. That smile only widened as the show went on, because even though my spoiled adult self saw all the problems with Batman Live, the eight year olds all around me ate up every word and every minute. The point of an arena show, to me, is to keep the magic alive - to take the fantasy world that our children love and make it just a little more real to them. And in that, Batman Live succeeded on all counts. I wouldn't recommend going in expecting something life changing, but for your inner eight year old still clutching his Batman: The Animated Series DVDs, you can't go wrong.
Batman Live is currently touring the country. Get showtimes and tickets at batmanlive.com.