Batman Live is the theatrical world tour that brings Batman, Robin, most of Gotham City's villians, the Batmobile and Gotham City to an arena near you.
It's fairly safe to say that when you think of a stage show of Batman - from a creative point of view, there is so much that could go wrong. However, it's quite astonishing that the people behind this show actually seemed to do most things right!
Yes, the first fight with Batman and Catwoman is a little clumsy with slow wirework. Yes, Batman does seem to float into the stage at times instead of glide with cape billowing. Yes, Batman's punches are more like shoves at times. However, that's as bad as it gets and I probably am nit-picking. Now, let me tell you about the things they did right!
On the surface of it Batman Live may seem like a glitzy, brash and chaotic affair. You may think that from the adverts you have seen. You'd be wrong though....it's not just that.
I won't give too much of the story away but it does follow the birth of the Dynamic Duo. Batman is already an established character, having history with all the major villains, and must deal with a vengeful and recently orphaned Dick Grayson.
There are scenes that are very powerful. The first 10 minutes are terribly poignant. We see Gotham as a bustling and dangerous city. We are also witness to the Wayne's murder. Even though we all know how this event will play out I was on the edge of my seat - how would they portray this to a young audience? Very skilfully is the answer. The scene is striking but at the same time perfectly suited to the whole audience. One of the highlights of the show for me - not that the rest is in anyway downhill from there!
Sets ‘n Suits
The costumes are brilliant (some have been altered for the better since the first promotional images and videos came out) and very faithful to the comics. Harley's costume is the only one that really differs in that respect but it still has many of the trademark elements stamped on it.
The sets, mostly enhanced with great effect by the LARGE screen, are immersive with a great use of props. Particularly the Batmobile! (Ok so it doesn't actually drive - but it looks great up there on the stage and it ticks all the boxes - sliding canopy, rocket launchers, turbine (for speed) and a slick metallic sheen.)
Batman (Sam Heughan) in front of the Batmobile on the "Batcave" stage
I actually thought I was in a circus at one point! Due in no small part to the outstanding Haly’s Cirus performers and the set. Being in the front row we even received a flyer for Haly’s Circus’ return to Gotham City - that was cool. I also got harassed by a Joker goon later in the show – that was also cool!
Arkham Asylum is represented as hell on earth with bodies hanging on chains – add the Scarecrow (with some great stilt work to imply fear-gas induced hallucinations) and it makes for a very effectively creepy scene indeed.
Script and characters
The script is witty and flows well. There are plenty of references to keep fan-boys happy ("I'm Batman" and mentions of "Julie Madison and Vicki Vale") and keep those new to Batman in the loop. I don't think anyone could leave the show feeling short-changed or lost. By the way, see of you can spot 2 Batmobiles from the movies during the show.
The characterisations are pretty much, on the face of it, what anyone would expect...the characters aren't taken anywhere new. The only characters who are explored with any sense of evolvement are Robin and Catwoman - but even that is standard stuff. This may be a little hard to take for those who expect each adaptation of Batman to be "new ground" or "it's own thing" but, honestly, I found it refreshing. As an advocate for Batman I loved it that the Batman world was presented to an audience in what I would call a "pure" sense. I know of people who went into this show not being a Batman fan and left loving it. They were shown characters that are sprung from the comics - not a certain actor or director's adaption.
Penguin (Alex Giannini), Catwoman (Emma Clifford), Joker (Mark Frost), Riddler (Christopher Price), Poison Ivy (Valerie Murzak) and Harley Quinn (Poppy Tierney) are all out to make Batman's life hell...and entertain the crowd!
In terms of tone, if I had to compare Batman Live to one of the movies then Batman Forever would be my answer. The story obviously has parallels. The same mix of colourful characters and high-tech fantasy is here (even down the neon clowns with glow sticks fighting Batman – no Don “The Dragon” Wilson however) though it is a little more respectful.
The cast reviewed
As good as the script is, it is elevated far higher by the actors themselves. Each performance is flawless.
I mentioned Harley's costume being different - Poppy Tierney, who plays Harley, could have been wearing a sack with holes cut out for her arms and still have been instantly recognisable as the Harley we all know and love...in fact Poppy damn near steals the show. Damn near, but not quite. That honour goes to the one who Harley describes as "the man who steals everything"!
Of course I'm talking about the Joker - played with unrelenting nastiness by Mark Frost. I had read great things about Mark in other reviews but my god...he eats up the stage! Though not at the expense of the other cast members. This Joker is unlike anything I have seen before. The strongest comparison I can think of is to Mark Hamill but the performance really is all Mr Frost's. It's safe to say it isn't an interpretation that would work in the movies - there definitely are elements of a pantomime villain about the Joker but by the time this tour ends Mark Frost should definitely be a regular in any list that includes Jack Nicholson, Ceasar Romero, Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger.
As much as the Joker steals the show, every other character is given a great amount of focus (well apart from Two-Face and Riddler...though they do get a few lines and purpose in the show).
Bruce Wayne (Batman!) is played with a LOT of charm as a carefree playboy who, at times, isn't held in high regard by Commissioner Gordon. If you weren't aware, Batman is played by 2 actors on different nights. Nick Court did the role when I was there and did a fantastic job of bringing the Bruce I know to the stage. Sam Heughan is the other Batman - and I have heard he is equally as good. (I met Sam after the show - but more on that later).
Batman is played with grit and reserve - never getting too excited and at the same time kicking ass when the time calls for it. The suit looks great - improved from the initial promo photos. Batman gets to use his cape to glide into the action and fire his grappling hook to leave. As is usually the complaint with the movies Batman probably doesn't get as much stage time as the villains (someone can correct me) but between him and Bruce there is a very satisfying presence throughout the show.
Dick Grayson (Robin!!) is also played by 2 different actors on different nights, Michael Pickering and Kamran Darabi-Ford. Robin is the pivotal character in the show and is pretty much how you would expect - he's also highly likeable and not at all winey (he's no Damien Wayne and never comes out with awful lines like "I wanna car..chicks dig the car" --shutter--).
Robin also gets to beat down on the Joker - to the audiences joy, receiving cheers and claps - it's a great moment in the show. Robin’s costume has also been changed a lot since the first photos emerged. The new suit looks great – a real improvement.
Kamran Darabi-Ford and Sam Heughan in Belfast
At this point I could say the rest of the actors are great and move on - but I really feel I have to give each one credit. Everyone was really THAT good.
Emma Clifford is sexy, sassy, slinky - in fact...she's Catwoman. She really was stunning. The amount of wire-work she has to endure is impressive. Her first scene, hanging upside down for several minutes on a wire in the Museum, would have made me puke! I was also pleased to see she was also handy with a whip...almost emulating Michelle Pfeffier at times. Emma also played Martha Wayne in the poignant first scene I mentioned. As short as this part was - I found it very touching. Every movement was carefully stepped - she wants to run after Thomas, she stops...looks back at Bruce as a concerned mother not wanting to leave him - but she must. Powerful stuff.
John Conroy as Alfred was a joy to watch. He looks the part. He talks the part. He was Alfred.
Alex Giannini was fantastic in his small role as the wise-cracking (and bad-ass!) Commissioner Gordon. He was also brilliant as the Penguin - I could see DeVito and Meredith in it. I know Alex is a fan of Danny DeVito so I would say the influence is a given!
Yes he played 2 roles! I only realised afterwards when I read the program (so much for my research!). Switching in and out of that fat suit must have been a real pain in the ass - he has to be the hardest working man on the tour!
What’s the score?
The biggest and most enduring star of the show has to be the score from James Seymour Brett. James is known for his big event scores and his work here is epic. It almost sounds as if a 1980's John Williams or Michael Kamen scored this baby. Beautiful. I really hope an album release is in the pipeline for this. It's heartening in this day and age that there are still composers out there that can produce brash, epic orchestral scores.
As I said before, I was fortunate enough to get a short tour behind the scenes of Batman Live (thanks to some of the awesome people involved with the show). Batman and Robin, Sam Heughan and Kamran Darabi-Ford, basically took me and my wife by the hand and explained how (almost) everything worked - the wires, stage, costumes, etc.
Firstly let me say that these two guys where unbelievably nice, really welcoming and chatted away.
I was already impressed with the show...but seeing how these guys work took it to a whole other level. Astonishingly efficient (cast and props were packed up 15 mins after the show ended!) and with a very small backstage they work wonders before they even appear on the stage.
Emma Clifford has her own area for wire-work training just before she performs in the show...and let me tell you - those wires are thin, and the clips that hold her in place are tiny. I think I actually spat out a four-lettered expletive upon being shown the apparatus!
We got to see the costumes (and Penguin's fat suit) which was a surreal experience for me. From what I understand the Batsuit is comprised of a harness first and foremost with the rubber "batsuit" built on top of that. It gets warm in that costume and those guys do sweat alot sometimes!
What is really impressive is the fact that most of the main actors in the show had no circus training or background. They went through a 2 week training course before heading into rehearsals!
Lastly I will just say something I found out about the first magic trick Harley Quinn performs. I asked how the tricks were done - but no one would tell me. Sam did tell me however that for the first trick there isn't a false bottom in the box! I'm still baffled.
So there you go. I hope that if you haven't seen the show yet I have given you enough reason to. And if you have seen the show I hope I have told you something you didn't know or didn't think of.
Seeing how the cast and crew operate, listening to how respectful they are of Batman and the fans, and knowing that they are there night after night (in some cases even if they aren't performing)...I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for all those involved with Batman Live. My thanks to them. And I wish them a safe and successful remainder of the World Tour. I hope they come back to Ireland in a couple of years. By then my son will be old enough to go with me...to visit and experience all the weird and wonderful sights Gotham City has to offer.
My only regret about the show? Not getting to meet Catwoman or Harley backstage!
Batman Live is amazing. It's a living comic book, a magic show and a crazy circus.
I recommend it highly and if I could, I would go see it again. And again.
For the first time in DC Comics history, see Batman the world's most popular DC Super Hero as you've never seen him before, in an all-new, live-action arena adventure, set to take the world by storm. Premiering in the UK in Summer 2011, Batman Live - World Arena Tour is a multi-million pound stage production of unprecedented scale and a must-see for families and Batman fans everywhere.
Based on an original story being created exclusively for the show, BATMAN LIVE is a theatrical extravaganza of thrilling stunts, acrobatic acts and illusions. Never before has Gotham City, Wayne Manor, the Batcave and Arkham Asylum been brought to life on stage in a more visually exciting way. Join Batman and Robin as they battle their nemesis The Joker and other super-villains such as The Riddler, Catwoman, The Penguin, Two-Face and Harley Quinn, set on destroying Gotham City.
Totally authentic, bold and awe-inspiring, BATMAN LIVE will be a completely new way to experience the world of Batman. This is one adventure you do not want to miss!