- Marvel Universe Live
The stage was an oblong area marked off by a low barricade in the basin of the stadium. After a first act populated by space aliens and featuring pyrotechnics, lasers, and a flying anthropomorphic racoon, it was time for intermission. Time to fill up on stadium food and peruse the souvenir tables. Returning from the poured concrete concourse, clutching Avengers-themed plastic cups, cotton candy, and tepid hot dogs, we saw a single performer in the middle of the playing space. Wearing dark slacks, a button-up shirt, and a vest, he was dressed as a stadium vendor and indeed there was no reason to believe he was not one. The man had Captain America–branded boomerangs, which he would throw and catch, each throw arcing outward and upward and returning to waiting hands. As the intermission wore on, he would launch more of the boomerangs into the air at once, attempting to catch them all as they returned in rapid succession. Two seemed like no problem, three took a bit of effort, four was difficult, and when he tossed additional boomerangs into the air he had to try a few times to catch them, eventfully getting to the point where adding even one more seemed impossible. Could he do it? The audience was held in rapt attention.
And then the second half of the production started, and the gray stadium was transformed into Asgard, home of the Norse gods Thor and Loki, who are also Marvel comic book characters. The projected view of a palace and the multicolored stripes of the rainbow bridge set the stage for the heroes to continue their hunt for the Wand of Watoomb, an object capable of vast destruction and also a useful Mc-Guffin for characters to chase in their madcap dash across the galaxy and in and out of various Marvel comic book worlds. Most of the characters are well known, and part of the appeal of the show is to see them all together, a live-action crossover event that plays to the already pervasive, multimedia storytelling of contemporary comics. Spiderman, Black Panther, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Dr. Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and others all make appearances to shout their catch phrases and show off their super powers.
The production reminds us that stadiums are built for spectators and spectacles, and I wish more theatre was like this. Marvel Universe Liveis one of the best examples of what I call "stadium theatre." The term describes those performances that are at home in the large open spaces of an arena: Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, professional wrestling, and others. The company is granted a license for Disney properties (Disney owns Marvel) and was its de facto theatrical wing before Disney produced Beauty and the Beaston Broadway. The company notes on its website that it has performed for millions of audience members and toured to over seventy-five countries in every continent but Antarctica—a reach that few theatrical companies can match.
The production is all rather spectacular. Iron Man flies as rocket flames shoot out of his feet, Spiderman, Black Panther, the Wasp, and Black Widow flip and leap and cartwheel across the stage and through the air, Groot, the talking walking tree, both talks and walks. In a fantastic sequence of motorbike jumps and stunts, Captain America and Spiderman combat multiple villains, revving motorcycle engines and flying off steep ramps just in front of us, live, with no editing. The performers take on the superhero costumes, but seem superhuman themselves. Green Goblin floats through the air, throwing fireballs that launch the other characters off their feet. The Hulk appears by breaking through a portion of the set. The sequence would be funny for its absurdity if it was not embedded in a gripping final battle that flexed its over-the-top theatricality. Indeed, it is a neat bit of theatre to see a character of the size of the Hulk (and he is quite large) move across a stadium floor...