Do superheroes belong on the stage? Marvel and DC comics have dabbled with live stage productions over the years to varying degrees of effect and this Autumn, Marvel is bringing perhaps its largest live production yet to our British shores with a UK tour of Marvel Universe Live!, which also includes a total of 12 shows at the impressive O2 Arena in East London from 16th to 24th September 2016.
Our favourite lycra-clad, superpowered, larger-than-life heroes and villains have long since been released from the confines of the pages of comic books and are now dominating all areas of the media, from feature films to television series, animation to computer games. Their influence on modern pop culture is so immense nowadays that it seems you can't even walk around a street corner without being hit by images of staredowns between Batman and Superman or cheeky slogans from Deadpool. So why should theatre exclude itself from the superhero phenomenon?
(Spider-Man - Photo by Marvel)
In 2012, I attended a performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark at the previously named Foxwoods Theatre on Broadway (now the Lyric Theatre). The musical's journey to the stage and controversies thereafter have been well-documented. A bitter legal dispute raged on between the show's producers and director Julie Taymor after she was forced to leave, the record-breaking period of 182 previews alone made Broadway history, and what about the spiralling $75 million production costs and the number of injuries caused to cast members along the way? With critics less than impressed with the musical's score (provided by U2's Bono and The Edge) and book (by Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa), to say it enjoyed a rocky journey on Broadway would be an understatement. But I have to admit that it will be a show that I personally will never forget. Sat in the middle of that huge theatre, I couldn't help feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of the production and those wild aerial stunts, which took place suspended over your own head at times. Reading a comic or watching a movie at the cinema is one thing, but being in a theatre and seeing your favourite characters actually brought to life and fight to live music around you is a one-of-a-kind experience. At the performance I attended, a technical problem left Spider-Man's nemesis Green Goblin dangling ten feet above our heads helplessly for a good few minutes. This brought raptuous laughter and applause from the audience, as Broadway veteran Patrick Page ad-libbed till his heart was content, and only added to the whole live experience.
This wasn't however the first time a superhero has graced the Great White Way. Back in 1966, It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman premiered on Broadway, but only managed to play 129 performances in total. The Harold Prince-helmed musical comedy took the same tongue-in-cheek approach as the popular 1966 Batman TV series, which starred Adam West, but failed to hold the attention of theatregoers compared to the latter's massive TV audience. A small-scale production was only mounted in London in 2014 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, which then transferred to the larger Leicester Square Theatre in 2015.
(Black Widow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D - Photo by Marvel)
For many years, there was also whispers of Batman: The Musical, which was being developed by Tim Burton, Jim Steinman and David Ives, but like many bats, it never saw the light of day and was ultimately cancelled. Batman Live, however, enjoyed a successful world arena tour and actually held its world premiere in the UK in 2011. I attended a performance at The O2 Arena that year and I have to admit that The O2 is the ideal venue for this type of live production and so I have my fingers crossed for Marvel Universe Live! Although there was plenty of dialogue and storytelling elements to Batman Live, which centred on the origin of Batman's sidekick Robin, the more memorable impact of such a show was the Cirque du Soleil-style aerial stunts and the introduction of the Batmobile on stage. The music was stirring, the lighting atmospheric and the costumes both outlandish and appealing. This was a show not just for kids, but also for all those adults with an unhealthy obsession for the comic-book-world.
I can certainly imagine Marvel Universe Live! offering the same level of live experience as Batman Live did five years ago. The show promises to deliver a multitude of stunts and pyrotechnics (choreographed by Andy Armstrong) whilst the story (written by Shanda Sawyer, Melanie Wilson Labracio and Adam Wilson) will feature supervillain Loki trying to assemble fragments of a cosmic cube in order to destroy the Earth with the aid of other villains from the Marvel Universe such as Green Goblin, Red Skull and Doctor Octopus. It is up to the heroes to unite, foil the evil Norse god's plans and save the planet. The cast of Marvel Universe Live! boasts the "who's who" of Marvel comics, including Spider-Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and many more.
(Thor - Photo by Marvel)
Produced by Feld Entertainment and directed by Shanda Sawyer, this live show features music by Michael Picton, set design by Joe Stewart, costume design by Cynthia Nordstrom and lighting design by Norm Schwab.
If you, like me, can't get enough of those omnipresent Marvel and DC comics superheroes, then don't miss this unique opportunity to witness them in living colour here in London.