Broadway has “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” and now the rest of America is getting its own flying super-hero show, “Batman Live: World Arena Tour.” Let’s count the ways that “Batman” is better than “Spider-Man”: It’s a few minutes shorter. Top ticket price is several dollars less. And there aren’t any Bono and the Edge songs to bog down the narrative.
What the two stage shows have in common is a bizarre penchant to tell aspects of a story that every super-hero fan already knows. The joy of old comic books is that they got right to the latest battle.
But not on stage: “Spider-Man” takes forever before its hero gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains his powers. “Batman Live” is to be commended for dispensing with the Bruce Wayne (Sam Heughan) orphan story in about two minutes flat. The Robin/Dick Grayson (Kamran Darabi-Ford) narrative, unfortunately, consumes almost the entire evening, and the sidekick doesn’t even learn of Wayne’s Batman identity until way into act two.
Meanwhile, we get a lot of second-rate circus gymnastics, squeezed into the show because Robin/Grayson’s parents (Poppy Tierney and Christopher Price) are trapeze artists who get murdered, and the Penguin (Alex Giannini) takes over Haly’s Circus. Then the great battle between Batman and the Penguin, the Joker (Mark Frost), the Riddler (Price), Poison Ivy (Valerie Murzak), Two Face (Christopher D. Hunt) and Scarecrow (Benos Noble) moves to Arkham Asylum. As a storyteller, book writer Allan Heinberg does little more than connect the famous names of characters and places.
To ensure parents that Robin and Batman are just friends, Catwoman (Emma Clifford) joins forces with Batman and gives him a kiss at show’s end. Curiously, Robin is overcome with emotion by this gesture.
Best aspect of the production are the colorful projections that establish the story’s many settings, and give us something to look at when the live performers attempt to progress the very talky narrative.
“Batman Live” has already played the U.K., Europe and Latin America. After L.A., it travels to other North American cities.