Batman comes to life in St. Paul
"Batman Live" stage show at Xcel Energy Center puts a Cirque Du Soleil spin on Gotham.
Photo courtesy of "Batman Live"
Since Batman’s inception, the character has found himself starring in almost every form of media imaginable, from comics and movies to cartoons and video games. Now, the Dark Knight gets the theater treatment, as “Batman Live” comes to the Xcel Energy Center. And while the show falls shy of a Shakespearean ideal, the live experience - pyrotechnics, acrobatics, fight choreography, and all - does bring a novelty to the Batman mythos that makes it worthwhile for the many Bat-fans here and abroad.
“Batman Live” opens at the very beginning: Bruce, Mom and Pop out to the movies when Joe Chill fires two bullets into the Gotham air and changes the Wayne boy’s life forever. Fast forward X years to an adult billionaire/playboy/philanthropist/secret vigilante Bruce Wayne. He’s at the circus, checking out the Flying Graysons famous trapezery in person, when the support cables snap, sending John and Mary Grayson to their dooms and landing boy wonder Dick Grayson in sprawling Wayne Manor. As Dick searches for his parents’ killer, Batman finds himself up against a posse of his greatest foes.
It’s next to impossible to make a Batman anything that isn’t in some way entertaining - the characters are too beloved; the interplay is too nuanced - and as such “Batman Live” is a success from inception. Though, what sets this retelling apart from other Batman tales is the coalescence of visual arts. In an effort toward scenic dynamism, the show employs a gigantic bat-shaped screen, its functions ranging from backdrop to comic panel display to Batcave computer screens. This allows for a broader environment, one not limited by physical set changes.
“Batman Live” also distinguishes itself with its choreography. Whereas random Joker goons flipping and hee-hawing around generally plays ridiculous in the movies or the campy TV show, in a live performance it becomes a spectacle all its own. In essence, the show is Batman meets Cirque Du Soleil, with a handful of impressive acrobatic sequences, some aerial maneuvering, and even some magic tricks (illusions, Michael), all of which blend smoothly into the story’s circus setting.
If the show has a major failing, it is one of ambition. “Batman Live” runs around two hours (with intermission), yet in that time it tries to flesh out Batman’s beginning, Robin’s origin and full character progression, and the shenanigans of The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and The Scarecrow, while still maintaining a compelling central story arc. What we lose in the process is a sense of characterization. There’s a distance between the audience and the players in this, a medium so entwined with characters and their raw emotions, which wouldn’t fly if we weren’t so familiar with these iconic heroes and villains. And simply resting on that fact seems like cheating and leaves the audience wanting.
On the whole, though, “Batman Live” manages a nice balance between the light and the heavy, pageantry and narrative. This ain’t Nolan’s Batman but it isn’t Adam West’s, either. It is an amalgamation of past story lines and varying live media types that is accessible to both the kiddies and adults.
And of course one can never dislike the Bat ...