This much can be said of the creators of “Batman Live,” a big-budget touring arena show capitalizing (or attempting to) on the DC Comics icon and all things Batmania…
- They realize the value of a flashy entrance or exit.
- They know something about timing. Although the European and Latin American portions of this tour may have overlapped somewhat with the release of Christopher Nolan’s film “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Batman Live” hit the U.S. in early as the summer blockbuster was ending its theatrical run and before the film become available to own. Which is important since, although the 3-film Nolan franchise and “Batman Live” are telling very different stories with minimal overlap, anybody with even a few working brain cells would pick “The Dark Knight Rises” over the expensive cartoony silliness that is the live show.
- They are supplying work – decently paying, one would hope – to more than 42 actors and acrobats, several of whom are asked to do little more than vault in formation, wear loud costumes and strike an action pose now and then. And I’m talking about the quite sizeable ensemble. Actors with “principle” roles have even more cigarette time backstage since, of the no fewer than seven arch-villains trotted out during “Batman Live’s” sluggish two hours, only two or actually have any function in the play. Three if you count Catwoman.
There’s plenty of noise, action and mayhem going on during the family-friendly (kind of) production assembled by Creative Director Anthony Van Laast and co-director James Powell. Writer Allan Heinberg tries to throw a little bit of emotional heft into what is basically the tale of how the world got Robin, but you can pile the dead parents and misunderstood vigilantes to the ceiling and people are still going to be leaving “Batman Live” oohing and ahhing over the scenery and pyrotechnics if they’re oohing and ahhing at all.
Yes, that giant video screen wall is rather impressive, all 105 feet of it. Basically, you’ve got cool-looking animated film backdrops depicting anything you can imagine swooping into place, melding with a backstage door to create a circus tent, an insane asylum, flipped comic book pages or the Batcave. Toss in as many characters dropping from the sky as a theater can hold, a balloon that bursts a bit too convincingly into flame and, of course, the Batmobile, and you’re a few live animals short of providing an actual circus.
Are we talking a quality circus? Well, ask the 10 and under-set since “Batman Live” is clearly for them as long as they aren’t easily spooked by loud noises. Otherwise you’re going to need to be a pretty hardcore Gotham geek to get much out of this other than maybe some low level appreciation for the aforementioned FX and the bat suit designed by Jack Galloway.
Storywise, we’ve seen this version played out a few too many times before either in the comics, on TV or in the pre-Nolan “Batman” movies which weren’t all that good to begin with. Yes, Bruce Wayne has been struggling with his do-right instincts and methods since he saw his parents murdered as a child. So now he lives a playboy life style, dates a lot of women, puts on a black suit and a mask and responds to the Bat-signal whenever Commissioner Gordon and the police need help. “Batman Live” glosses over the back-story and plants us in the here and now as evil-doers the Penguin, the Riddler, Two Face et al can’t get their acts together enough to actually pose a threat.
When the green-haired and laugh loving Joker (Mark Frost, having a blast) gets the baddies to work as a team, maybe – just maybe – the Caped Crusader will meet his match. By now, of course, Dick Grayson (Kamran Darabi-Ford), orphaned earlier in the show from his circus performer parents is starting to mature into Robin form. And maybe sexy Catwoman (Emma Clifford) might not be as evil as was first thought.
The role of Batman/Bruce Wayne is shared by three actors. On opening night we got Sam Heughan. Even in film, where the role has been tossed from Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer to Oscar winners George Clooney and Christian Bale, the role has been tricky. Bruce Wayne with his tortured background, is an interesting multi-layered guy. Batman, for all his gadgets and fight moves, is eclipsed by his toys and his villains. Heughan cuts a heroic enough figure all gussied up and, with those harnesses, soars and glides in as needed. When he’s Bruce, we want him off stage. We want the Batman. When Batman’s take the stage, it could be anybody under that mask and body armor. The lions are fed.
“Batman Live” plays Saturday at noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.,m., Sunday at noon and 4 p.m. at Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A. $29.50-$99, (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.