Batman Live, MEN Arena, Manchester
Thursday 21 July 2011
It is big, brash, very, very loud and coming to an arena near you this school summer holidays. Unlike the roundly panned musical exploits of Spider-Man in the US, the Caped Crusader live in the UK has enjoyed a trouble-free gestation to date. Yet at a cost of £12m it does carry a similarly grandiose ambition.
The stage format appears a natural progression of the original 1939 franchise, although it lacks the iconic originality of the DC comic strip, the campy humour of the 1960s TV series and the darker notes of the later films.
Certainly the first half feels less like the "non-stop thrill ride across Gotham City", as promised, and more like a Las Vegas hotel show, surely leaving some of the wide-eyed young fans decked out in bat costume feeling short-changed in the action stakes as it sketches out the dynamic duo's back stories.
And while there is no shortage of twirling girls on ropes and tumbling troupes of acrobats, for all its 100ft bat-shaped LED backdrop and 43-strong cast, it feels strangely static. When Batman finally gets aloft, his early grapple with an admirably slinky Catwoman looks more like two puppets on sticks dancing than super heroes going at it hammer and tongs. And there is not a Kerpow to be had.
Thankfully the second half gets much better, occasionally hinting at what a good family night out this could have been with glimpses of humour and intelligence. The climax at the Arkham Asylum finally sees the fight scenes come alive.
The Joker, who when he first pings out of a giant jack-in-the-box uncannily resembles Ken Dodd, takes on a malevolence previously lacking. The jokes still fall largely flat, although the intrepid butler Albert does his best to leaven the mix. Cheers go up not just for the arrival of the specially constructed Batmobile but for the coming of age of the dynamic duo.
The show's creative director, Anthony Van Laast, choreographed the hit musical Mamma Mia! and worked on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as well as with some big rock acts. Unfortunately this feels more like computer gaming brought to life rather than an entertaining evening that everyone can enjoy. Still, a thousand little boys in Batman outfits will go home happy.
To 24 July (0871 789 1004); then touring.
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