The Joker will not be slamming a pencil through someone's head in "Batman Live."

Heath Ledger's gruesome turn as Batman's archenemy in "The Dark Knight" helped redefine the comic-book hero this past decade. This summer's gritty finale to Christopher Nolan's trilogy only intensified how dark this iconic character has become.

"Batman Live" lightens the mood. The colorful live-action stage tour, which comes to the Xcel Energy Center Thursday, is being called an "arena spectacular."

The Joker makes his entrance by springing out of a giant jack-in-the-box. Yes, here is a Batman fit for the whole family.

The $15 million production was conceived in England, where it premiered last year, before touring Europe and South America.

"Batman Live" is a cross between Cirque du Soleil and a live-action comic book. The 42-person cast is filled with circus-trained actors, pyrotechnics and a massive 105-foot LED video screen.

The pop spectacle retells Robin's origin story, with Batman coming to the boy's aid after his parents are murdered. Two hours of action ensue with many of the comic book's villains coming out of the woodwork: Two-Face, Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy and a G-rated Joker.

The show's creative director is Anthony Van Laast, whose credits include "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Mamma Mia!" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

In its review of last year's Manchester show, the Guardian said "the figure who strutted across the vast stage was a sanitized Batman, a crimefighter who prizes justice over revenge; a Dark Knight rendered a paler shade of black."

This production will not give pre-schoolers nightmares. Most likely, they'll simply hyperventilate from the overstimulation. Beyond the explosions and bright lights, there are a lot of circus acrobatics -- remember, Robin's family starts out as a trapeze act under the big top.

To comprehend the sheer size of the production, here are some numbers to mull over:

• The production travels from arena to arena in 20 semi-trailer trucks.

• The video screen weighs 33,000 pounds.

• Joker's cannons blast out 7,700 pounds of confetti. (Every night is like winning the NBA Finals.)

Famed European race-car designer Gordon Murray created a new Batmobile for "Batman Live." It looks like a futuristic spaceship -- not the tank seen in Nolan's trilogy.

In "The Dark Knight," the Joker would ask his victims, "Why so serious?"

"Batman Live" takes that notion to heart.


  • Tom Horgen
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