NEW YORK — Behold! “Marvel Universe Live” has arrived and it’s a terrific time for any family of comic book nerds. Captain America, Spider-Man and their colossal comrades in combat do battle with the Red Skull, Loki and a nefarious cabal of the world’s worst villains in this campy mix of the circus, Ice Capades and San Diego Comic-Con.
After a major market premiere in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center (so, yes, Barbra Streisand and Thor checked their hair in the same backstage mirror) the show is criss-crossing North America through May of 2016. Dates in the UK and in Europe have yet to be set, but if the show’s a hit you can count on it. And considering the undying thirst for superhero action with kids and, sometimes just as much, their parents, you can expect that announcement soon.
The production is the work of Feld Entertainment, the company founded by Jewish-American entrepreneur Irvin Feld run by his, how shall we say, notable descendants. The company is the live entertainment juggernaut behind family staples like the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice and Monster Jam, where a bunch of jerks waste fossil fuels by smashing giant trucks and revving engines till no one can hear themselves think.
But all of Feld’s showbiz schtick is on display with “Marvel Universe Live.” There’s high-flying acrobatics, death-defying stunt biking and dazzling pyrotechnics to rival any Independence Day celebration. It’s a spectacle in the mighty Marvel tradition that would make 91-year-old brand ambassador Stan Lee (née Lieber) kvell.
And there are, of course, plenty of opportunities to come home with glossy programs ($25 a pop!) and plush versions of Thor’s hammer.
The show goes deep into Marvel’s stable of characters, many of which were created by Jews like the aforementioned Lee, Jack (Jacob Kurtzberg) Kirby and Joe (Hymie) Simon. Joining Captain America on this adventure are the Avengers: Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, the Scarlett Johansson-ized Natalie Rushman aka Black Widow, Falcon, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye. But thanks to some short-sighted licensing deal between the movie studios, this is the only way you’ll get to see the Avengers team up with Spidey and his buddies in the X-Men comics. (And thus, our costumed heroes are condemned to a silver screen diaspora between Disney, Sony and 20th Century Fox.)
The villains in “Marvel Universe Live” are legion. Thor’s trickster half-brother Loki and his nasty aliens (the Chitauri, if you are keeping track) from the “Avengers” movie are back. With him is the Teutonic Red Skull and the forces of Hydra, a kid-friendly Third Reich substitute. From the Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is the Green Goblin and his Sinister Six plus Killian (who?) and his Extremis soldiers. All in all, no shortage of dastardly no-goodniks for our heroes to Bif! Bam! and Pow!
The story goes like this: it’s all that lovably lunkheaded shaygetz Thor’s fault. Space Goy thinks he’s doing a mitzvah by smashing the all-powerful Cosmic Cube into bits. (That’s the thingamabob they call the Tesseract in the movies.) The Cube breaks into three pieces and land on Earth. Meanwhile, Iron Man and Spidey stumble upon Loki’s latest evil scheme: to create a clone of the Cosmic Cube using the mutant energies of three of your favorite X-Men: Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm! In addition to this, he breaks the fourth wall to insult the audience and tell them that they smell! Boooooooo!
Spidey and Iron Man are able to free Wolverine from the machine that’s draining the X-Men’s powers, but Loki escapes with the other two imprisoned mutants. Iron Man assembles the Avengers (Avengers love to be assembled!) to find the three pieces of the Cosmic Cube that Thor smashed. Maybe then they can stop Loki and his faux Cube. (I hope you got that, because there is going to be a quiz.)
The problem is, the three pieces are in the clutches of some of the world’s worst supervillains. The heroes break into smaller squads, which eases the show into a series of choreographed set-pieces. There’s plenty of acrobatics and non-threatening fights, set to sound effects and dry ice.
Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye go after Iron Man’s foe Killian (who is this guy again?) with his fire-enhanced Extremis soldiers and evil A.I.M scientists. Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow ride their motorcycles to Hydra Island to battle the Red Skull and Madame Hydra. (Figure she owns the place, she can name it.)
Thor and Spider-Man confront the Green Goblin and his Sinister Six in New York City in a battle atop the Statue of Liberty. (That’s a local victory for Spider-Man, a wiseacre quasi-Jewish kid from Queens.) Lastly, Wolverine and Dr. Bruce Banner (the pre-angry Incredible Hulk) head off to the Himalayas to rescue the X-Men from Loki’s clutches.
Will the heroes get those Cosmic Cube pieces? Will the heroes stop Loki’s latest plan to rule the world? Will the audience finally get to see a giant foam Hulk lumber around a basketball arena?
Before you buy a ticket, remember that this is not the movies, this is family entertainment. You can clearly see the wires when Iron Man flies. You’ll need to suspend your disbelief and keep your cynicism in check or else not bother showing up. But hey, you’ll probably be eating cotton candy as you watch. (For grownups who aren’t into this sort of thing, beer was available at the Barclays in Brooklyn — one suspects that will be the case throughout the whole tour.)
Parents should also be aware of what their children can and cannot handle. Once the first explosion roared, and there are an awful lot of them, there were no shortage of crying, terrified kids. But if your little monsters love nothing more than to scream at the top of their lungs and hear a lot of loud noises, they’re going to go bonkers. Also, if you are raising a nerd of the female variety, know that the show does not skimp on “girl power.” In addition to Black Widow and Storm, Agent Maria Hill, Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel and Black Cat leap, fight and hurl Stan Lee-esque puns right alongside the boys.