What It's Like to Fight a Real Superhero at Marvel's New Live Show

An intrepid reporter goes behind the scenes of the new Marvel Universe Live! Age of Heroes show for battle tips from the Wasp and Spider-Man.
Courtesy of Feld Media

I fought a superhero and still have the bruises to show for it.

I was among a small group of reporters who recently paid a behind-the-scenes visit to downtown Los Angeles' new stage show Marvel Universe Live! Age of Heroes, which opens Friday at the Staples Center. (Luckily, ice packs and foam rollers were on hand.)

Forget New York, Marvel heroes have descended upon downtown Los Angeles.

The new show boasts nearly 50 performers and familiar heroes such as Captain America, Black Widow, Spider-Man, Hulk and Thor, as well as villains Loki and the Chitauri and quasi baddie Nebula, all of which are masters at tumbling, fighting and leaping through the air with (seemingly) the greatest of ease. The moves, of which there are many, are meticulously choreographed and feature a blend of martial arts, parkour, dance, aerial acrobatics, tumbling and traditional gymnastics, with a bit of pyrotechnics and motorcycles thrown in for good measure.

Backstage, on a big blue mat that is slightly harder than it first appears, performers who play the Wasp, Spidey and a few Ravagers demonstrated their impressive fight choreography. Next was my turn. After a (too) quick demonstration on how to block a punch, I was thrust into hand-to-hand combat with a superhero, who was kind enough to pretend I could beat him up and even offered a few pointers on how to strike the most triumphant victory pose.

As for the stage itself, state-of-the-art technology is utilized to transform the trampoline-laden stage into a variety of familiar tableaux across the Marvel Universe. Stark Tower in New York gives way to Ravager spaceships from Guardians of the Galaxy and the mystical city of K'un-Lun from Iron Fist. Using infrared motion-capture tech, the gray, multileveled stage acts as a screen for overhead projectors to create the vivid backdrops for the performers, as well as pinpoint the actors' spotlights to follow key moments and actions around the stage as performers duke it out with high-flying flips, kicks and tricks.

The show's premiere this weekend marks the culmination of a grueling eight-week rehearsal schedule for the actors. Coming from an eclectic mix of backgrounds, including traditional gymnastics, martial arts, dance and parkour, the performers were required to stretch outside their comfort zones to learn the variety of choreography, tumbling and acrobatic techniques the show demands. From aerialists suspended 40-50 feet above the Staples Center floor to motorcyclists launching off of ramps to actors launching their bodies off trampolines and propelling headlong over waist-high set pieces, the toll on performers' joints is no joke — particularly given the number of shows slated over the show's planned 18-month tour.

Luckily, a personal trainer and masseuses are on retainer. Even superheroes need a recuperation period, after all.

Throughout my time walking through the stage, my guide hardly paused his explanation as he flew over barrels, performed back handsprings and demonstrated Kong Vaults midsentence, all while I giggled, gobsmacked at the ease with which he handled such feats. I later tripped over a cupholder while walking through the empty auditorium.

Naturally, leaping and soaring through the air not only has an effect on the actors' bodies, but also on their costumes. The show's costume department prepared more than 150 different costumes for the show, each specifically designed with motion and durability in mind. Using strong-yet-flexible fabrics, the designers created colorful pieces that breathe and allow performers the range of motion required for even the most taxing of stunts. Due to the pyrotechnics involved in the show, the suits were also doused in flame retardant to prevent Spidey from becoming the Human Torch.

I happened to try on one of the fire drummer's helmets and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it was, though without pounding flaming sticks on a percussive instrument, my opinion may not be accurate.

Finally, no Marvel experience would be complete without trying one's hand at lifting Thor's mighty hammer (or Mjolnir, for those in the know). Having just gotten fighting lessons from Spider-Man and the Wasp and literally kicking the butt of a Ravager, I felt confident. Wrapping my hands around Mjolnir's handle, I felt its sturdy weight and was resolute in my ability to wield it, Hemsworth be damned. Straining, I pulled with all my might, but the magnet held firm. Redoubling my efforts, and with my best Norse yell, I managed to free the almighty hammer from its resting place and wield it above my head like the god of thunder — then it got heavy, and I quickly dropped it back onto its pedestal. Being a hero is hard, and Old Spice only makes antiperspirant so powerful.

Marvel Universe Live! Age of Heroes premieres Friday night at 7 p.m. at Staples Center, with shows scheduled throughout the weekend. It then moves on to Ontario, Calif., before heading on the road to the rest of the continental United States.

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