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These days, you’d be hard pressed if you wanted to find a Batman story to give to a kid. Christopher Nolan’s somber, super-serious Dark Knight trilogy is most definitely an adult affair, through and through. Rocksteady’s most recent Batman video games — Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City — have more violence, carnage and twisted psychoses than a full season of Criminal Minds. Even the Batman comics have forsaken children in favor of offering a Joker who had his face cut off — as you do — and straps it back on.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a Batman for grownups, but it does seem like a massive oversight to not have a Batman for kids. (Yes, I know there was a wonderful Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon a couple of years ago, and that Warner Bros. is prepping a new animated series. Don’t interrupt my flow.) So enter Batman Live, a stage show that tries to be all things to all people but, instead, fails to truly energize.
Batman Live is less a work of theater than it is a parade. There are the “floats” you expect to see, in this case, the standard litany of Batman’s villains, punctuated by acrobats flipping around and awkward posing from the heroic “celebs.” The story, such as it is, retells the origins of both Bruce Wayne (Sam Heughan) and Dick Grayson (Kamran Darabi-Ford) — parents killed, crime to blame, justice not revenge, tights! — and then trots out the Dark Knight’s Rogues Gallery like so many cameos on, well, the ‘60s Batman TV show. Hey, look, there’s Poison Ivy (Valerie Murzak) and the Riddler (Christopher Price) and Scarecrow (Benos Noble) and Two-Face (Christopher D. Hunt), and they’re all teaming up under the supervision of the Joker (Mark Frost), to take out the Batman! Why? Because that’s what they do.
Nothing is done with any depth, from the performances — which range from pretty decent replications of previous iterations of characters like the Penguin (Alex Giannini) and Harley Quinn (Poppy Tierney) to stock hero-and-sidekick dynamics — to the staging, which leans so heavily on a jumbotron-like display to provide well-animated scenic backgrounds that you’re almost afraid it’ll fall over. Most disappointing, though, is the stage combat: Batman and Robin, encased in thick padded costumes, are so leaden and heavy that every fight has all the kinetic energy of a game of Yahtzee. (And, given the lack of dramatic demands placed on the actors, it really might’ve been a good idea to get an actual gymnast to play the acrobatic Boy Wonder.)
But you know what? None of that matters if you’re nine. If you’re nine, you applaud every time the Joker cackles. If you’re nine, you gasp when the Batmobile rolls out onto the stage and fires rockets into the audience. If you’re nine, you believe that Batman can fly — and you don’t wonder why he spends so much damned time floating around on wires. If you’re the right age, you’ll inhale Batman Live like the empty-calorie confection that it is and be perfectly fine with it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Venue: Staples Center (Runs through Sept. 30)
Cast: Sam Heughan, Kamran Darabi-Ford, Mark Frost, Emma Clifford, Poppy Tierney, Alex Giannini, John Harding, Christopher D. Hunt, Christopher Price, Valerie
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Creative Director: Anthony Van Laast
Co-Director: James Powell
Production Designer: Es Devlin
Costume Designer: Jack Galloway
Music Composer and Arranger: James Seymour Brett
Sound Designer: Simon Baker
Video Producer: Sam Pattinson
Produced by Nick Grace Management
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