The show is an arena spectacle, so we figured we were in for big, cheesy, fun, frothy action. We trekked to the MEN Arena and got our seats. (As a side note, Texas arena food totally kicks British Arena food's butt!)
We figured it was an exciting concept- a family friendly arena version of a well loved comic book character.
The arena was less than half full because it was a preview, but it was still full enough to have a good crowd feel, essential to a viewing experience for something like this. We had great seats near the front, but not on the floor.
Obligatory Meg & Ross self-portrait
The set looked impressive. There were miniature Gotham City buildings and a very impressive screen across the back that showed all sorts of animation.
Blurry cell phone picture of the set, pre-show
The crowd, a good mix of adults and kid, was primed for a good time. The two directors came out onto the stage with microphones and welcomed us to this open dress rehearsal. The explained that, as it was a very technical show, there was a chance that the show would have to be stopped if something went wrong. They said that the show would resume as quickly as possible. We were excited!
The show started with an enactment of the death of Bruce Wayne's parents. Then something happened for about 25 minutes (Lord knows what, neither Ross nor I can remember) before Batman even made an appearance! That's right. We timed it. It took 30 minutes for Batman to take the stage. He flew in to confront Catwoman mid cat burglary.
During the fight, we experienced our first stoppage of the show. Something had gone wrong with the flying rig. They stopped the show for a few minutes while the sorted it out. Being the nerd that I am, I would have really enjoyed if someone had come over the microphone and explained what went wrong. Ah well...
The fight re-started and was much better. Now, I thought, it's really going to take off. Wrong. Man, this show had a whole lotta stuff going on. There were a whole host of villains (Catwoman, Penguin, The Riddler, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Sandman, and Poison Ivy) and bunch of background acrobats. The story ended up being a very tenuous narrative about Robin's creation story and a bunch of villains taking over Arkham Asylum.
Now look. I knew I wasn't going to a theatre performance. I knew it would be a spectacle. But for all the spectacular parts, the sum wasn't all that impressive. There was either too much story or not enough. I think loosely strung together vignettes with each of the villains would have been better. A major flaw was that none of the performers seemed to "play out" enough to the crowd. Especially the villains (with the possible exception of Harley) lacked the pizazz and charisma they should have been packing. I mean, these are comic book villains. This is when an actor should go big or go home. Another fault, ironically pointed out by The Joker (though I don't think it was any sort of meta-commentary) was the lack of humour. The Joker was referring to Batman himself, but the statement could just as easily have been attributed to the show as a whole.
At intermission, Ross and I found ourselves pondering whether to stay or go. I made the case that we should stay, just to find out if the show could redeem itself.
The stage at intermission.
Alas, the second half fared about the same. There were a few large scale numbers, but they weren't really that exciting. The Batmobile made an appearance and was fairly impressive. I think the straw that broke the camel's back for us was when Batman told the story of his parent's death to Robin. The impressive backdrop screen showed an animated version of the event. It was actually really cool. Why oh why, did they bother opening the show with the exact same scene (less well-done) in live action at the beginning of the show?!! It was pretty ridiculous and showed a real lack of writing aplomb.
Ross and I were shocked at the applause and yells from the audience at the end. We were even more surprised to see the tweets the show elicited. Ross came across nothing but positive reviews which sung the praises of the production. Really?
In an effort to be constructive, I below outline our suggested changes:
1. Revamp the story. Ross and I are available to consult for a fee ;)
2. Get in a few comedians to play some of the villains. Ross suggests Peter Kay for Penguin.
3. Re-choreograph large fight/production numbers. A good choreographer should be able to draw the viewer to the important bits of what's going on. The current effect is a chaotic mess. There's way to much going on in every corner, leaving the viewer confused and feeling like they don't know where to look.
4. Consider the tone of the show. Would it hurt to camp it up a bit in the style of the TV show? That screen would be great for showing the "Boom!"s "ZOP!"s and other onomatopoeic words. Maybe add a few musical numbers? Just sayin'.
Hopefully, by the time Batman Live comes to a city near you on it's world wide tour, they will have worked out the kinks and revealed the full potential of this show.