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Review: 'Batman Live: World Arena Tour'

Batman is coming to a city near you. But so is his rogues gallery.

Batman has been adapted into pretty much every type of media you can think of. When it was announced that a live stage production would be headed to the United States, it took about a second and a half to decide whether or not we should go. Tickets were purchased and the months rolled by until it was showtime.

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We caught the show on Thursday, September 20 in San Jose. If you're wondering if the show is headed to a city near you, check out the show's website for tour information. As for whether or not you should attend, here's our take on the production and value of the performance.

Tony's Take

Batman as a live show makes perfect sense. For as brooding as Batman is, there is so much drama mixed into the story of who he is. As you find your seat and wait for the show to begin, your eyes are immediately drawn to the giant screen at the back of the stage in the shape of a bat with an animated Gotham City being shown. Police sirens can be heard and the stage jutting out towards the audience is a miniature recreation of several city blocks.

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The show begins with it being a year into Batman's existence. We immediately get a flashback performance of young Bruce Wayne and his parents on that fateful night in the alley outside a theater. You know what's coming. Thankfully for all the small children in the audience, the killing of the Waynes is handled off stage. You'll know what's going on but younger viewers might not realize the scope of the scene and that's fine.

Shifting to Haly's Circus, we're treated to the introduction of the Flying Graysons complete with a single trapeze to recreate the origin of Dick Grayson. This is where the main story of the show begins. Tony Zucco was responsible for the deaths of the Flying Graysons, Bruce Wayne takes in Dick Grayson and Batman is on a mission to find out who Zucco was working for. This hunt for answers brings him up against Catwoman, Penguin (at the Iceberg Lounge), Two-Face and Riddler.

The fighting scenes often come across as cheesy. The choreography works most times but perhaps with was where my seat was and some punches were clearly miles from connecting. The story can get a little campy and again, we get that bit of drama, especially when Batman encounters Catwoman.

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There is an intermission and the second half takes a darker turn. With most of the story taking place in Arkham Asylum, we have Joker breaking into the place as they lure Batman inside. During this portion we also see the Batmobile and the birth of Robin.

It's a pretty straight forward story. It has all the elements you would want in a Batman stage production. All the main villains are here and that's where the performances mostly shine. Harley does a great job in her role and without Joker, the show would be seriously lacking a clear direction. In other words, it is Joker that steals the show. Unfortunately the performances by Batman and Robin were the weaker parts. They weren't horrible but Batman was too stiff and Robin just didn't feel right. If you think about it, this makes sense as it's the villains that are more colorful and entertaining.

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Overall, it is worth seeing. If the show is in your area and if you have younger members of your family, you won't want to miss the chance to check the show out. It's not Broadway. It won't win any theatrical awards. It is a great take on Batman presented in another format. I would have loved to have taken my daughter to the show. There was a lot of work put into the production and performances. This just shows that Batman can take on any sort of media put in front of him. What else is there for him to take on and conquer?

Sara's Take

One of the things that makes Batman such a unique character is his versatility. He can be portrayed as campy and a little bit goofy or dark and brooding; but at the end of the day, he is still Batman and these are all acceptable ways to portray his character. I think that for a family friendly live performance of Batman, Batman: Live uses this notion to their advantage and thus do their utmost to depict the character's versatility. If you've already seen the show, you might know what I am referring to.

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When I first heard that Batman was going on tour and would be starring in a live-action stage performance I admit I was a bit skeptical. How would they manage to bring the Dark Knight to the stage in a way that would appease die-hard fans and children, alike? How would they tell his origin story without making too dark? I was certainly interested in seeing what route that the creators of the show would take. While I was expecting the show to be really very campy, I admit I was pleasantly surprised. The opening scene where we are introduced to Bruce Wayne definitely could have been executed a bit better; although I imagine it's difficult to depict the murder of a child's parents in a show that is supposed to be kid friendly. In this scene the audience sort of has to use their imagination. Although it feels a little bit sugar coated, I felt that was necessary to keep it an all-ages show. A few scenes later we also see the death of the Flying Graysons and it is a moment that is executed really beautifully. In this scene we don't just see Dick's parents die, but we see the various dancers move into the scene and a light show that shifts with the tone and mood of the moment. It's these details that really help capture the moment.

If you just know the basics about Batman, you might like what you see here. The audience is introduced to various characters and each of them get a little bit of stage time, but there wasn't any particular focus on any one of Batman's adversaries. Still, it was nice to see them all on stage fighting Batman. I think the character we probably spend the most amount of time on (aside from Robin and Batman) is the Joker. You definitely get the sense that the character who played the Joker did his research and tried his best to channel Mark Hamill, to be honest. Personally, I felt he did a pretty good job with the role.

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As far as live shows go, this one had a very versatile stage and set. The floor plan was arranged to give a sort of aerial view of Gotham City. It was as though you had subway map of Gotham, and it proved to mesh really well with the different events that took place in the different scenes. I personally thought that the set designs were really impressive. Of everything about the show, the sets really helped set the tone and the mood of the different scenes. For example, when the story shifted from Haly's Circus to the Penguin's Iceberg Lounge, it really felt different. I also felt that having the backdrop resemble the turning pages of a comic book with each new scene was really helpful. It was nice to see that the show never failed to forget that before anything else, Batman was a comic book character first before he starred in his own movies or video games.

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The second act feels a lot darker than the first, and that might have something to do with the fact that the story opens in Arkham Asylum. It may have been just me, but the structure of the second act feels a lot like the Batman: Arrkham Asylum video game; even down to the scene with the giant Scarecrow. If you've played the game, you know what I mean. I think that in order to give each of Batman's adversaries their little bit of stage time, this was the way to present this show. Overall, it wasn't a bad event. It wasn't by any means the greatest live performance I have ever scene, but it was still fun to see so many of my favorite characters come to life on stage. The costumes and the set designs are great, and the trapeze artists in the show really gave it that 'Cirque de Soleil' type of feel. Overall, it's definitely a show I would see again and something I would recommend for the whole family.

Check the official Batman Live website to find out if the show is coming to your town.