First Night: Batman Live, Manchster Evening News Arena

Caped Crusader hits the stage but misses the mark
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The Independent Culture

It is big, brash, very, very loud and coming to an arena near you this summer. Unlike the ill-fated and roundly panned musical exploits of fellow super hero Spider-Man in the United States, the Crusader live in the UK has enjoyed a trouble-free gestation to date. But costing £12m, it is not lacking 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 costumes feeling short-changed in the action stakes as it sketches out the dynamic duo's back stories.

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 Cat Woman looks more like two puppets on sticks dancing than super heroes going at it hammer and tongs.

The second half gets better, 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 evokes the spirit of 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. It almost becomes spectacular as the bad guys are dispatched and the Joker is laid low by a bazooka blast from his wronged moll Harley Quinn.

When first devised on the eve of the Second World War, Batman was a beacon of moral certitude in a world falling apart. It is something that modern audiences might also find reassuring. The show's creative director Anthony Van Laast choreographed the hit musical Mama Mia! and worked on Harry Potter and the Deathly Gallows as well as with some big rock acts. Unfortunately this feels more like computer gaming brought to life than a fully rounded family show.

Still, a thousand little boys in Batman outfits go home happy.

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