Nifty tech pumps up 'Marvel Universe Live!'

A cast member rehearses behind the scenes. Some stunts in the show have never been performed live.
A cast member rehearses behind the scenes. Some stunts in the show have never been performed live.
Posted: July 25, 2014

"MARVEL Universe Live!," now roaring 'round the Wells Fargo Center, had a really hard act to follow - all those big-budget Marvel action movies, which wow kids of all ages with fantastic computer graphic imagery and amazing antics by stunt drivers and martial-arts acrobats, daredevils who flip and fly themselves and their vehicles with pinpoint perfection.

But where others might be scared away, the gang at Feld Entertainment (which also stages the Ringling Bros. Circus and "Disney on Ice" spectacles) saw a challenge: to reinvent the arena spectacle with breakthroughs in technology, talents borrowed from the film world, two years of show development and a reported $10 million investment.

In sum, with the same enthusiasm the show's two dozen super heroes and super villains (and attendant armies) bring to this live-action, international adventure, pitting (what else?) good against evil.

Monopolizing one end of the arena plus the entire floor and overhead airspace, "Marvel Universe Live!" details a mission that finds the heroic Avengers, X-Men and Spider-Man chasing and challenging the evil Sinister Six, A.I.M. and Hydra Soldiers in (im)mortal combat to recover and reassemble the Cosmic Cube.

The Hulk dismantled it and spread it around the world - with good intent. You know, comic book fans, so that this "ultimate power" source wouldn't fall into the wrong hands.

Take a gander at all the high-tech wonders at our heroes' disposal:

INCOMPARABLE VISUALS: A two-hour movie, apportioned among 25 projectors, accompanies the live action on the LARGEST PROJECTION SPACE EVER KNOWN TO MAN!!!

Using (it claims) "more computer power than it took to power a space shuttle," the images give the audience three-dimensional "fly over" impressions from the Avengers' Tower, Loki's Hidden Fortress and the top of the Statue of Liberty.

Remember the cool topographic effects projected on the arena floor at the 2014 Sochi Olympics' opening ceremonies? Marvel's are way more, um, Olympian, spread across the floor, scenery and giant screen at the Wells Fargo Center.

FOLLOW ME TECH: To keep the lights on target and our gaze focused on 53 fast-moving performers and important scenes, each performer and apparatus carries a wireless homing device tracked by computers to automatically adjust spotlights and projections.

"No way this could be managed by human stage hands," said stage and production manager Chris Nobels.

FLYING HIGH: The stage musical "Spider-Man - Turn Off the Dark" suffered lots of technical problems with flying apparatus in a conventional, proscenium arch Broadway theater.

But as many as six high-flying characters - including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Hawkeye and Thor (the traditional male Thor, that is, not the newly recast female version) - battle bad guys like Rhino and Lizard without a hitch in the wide-open skies at the Wells Fargo.

Hanging off 1,700 feet of truss work, the flying apparatus combines special tracks and winches that move forward and back, up and down, triggered by computers and three teams of operators.

SOME HUNK, ER, HULK: It took 1,500 hours of labor and four prototypes to perfect the animated, 8-and-a-half-foot-tall personification of the Hulk looming large here.

It's a major crowd-pleasing moment when he transforms from mild-mannered Bruce Banner.

The Hulk's massive arms and legs are controlled by a human operator hiding inside. His large, glowing head is powered by car batteries and manipulated by nearby operators working a joystick like you'd use with a model airplane.

CAR AND CYCLE STUNTS: In the movies, stunt acrobats get lots of chances to do over. And extra replicas of a stunt car are often idling on the set for retakes.

In MUL, a motorcyclist gets just one chance per show to perform a heart-stopping, 19-foot vertical jump from the ground to a platform - reportedly the world record for a "splatter jump." (Funny name, huh?)

And in the show's high-speed car chase, one vehicle does cool drift maneuvers while the other, uniquely designed car flips over perfectly on cue, triggered by hidden stunt winches and cushioned by shock absorbers in the roof.

This ride can take a licking and keep on ticking, show after show.

INTERACTIVE FUN: Souvenirs that light up and glow in the dark are standard fare at Feld spectacles. But the Tony Stark ElectroLink wrist bands hawked at Marvel Universe Live! surely elevate the concept.

Equipped with a built-in radio frequency signal detector, each ElectroLink is remotely cued to come alive and start blinking whenever Iron Man and Spider-Man use their ElectroLinks in the show to repower Iron Man's suit.

Kids in the audience wave their facsimiles in the air so Iron Man can get his mojo back. How could you deny your little heroes the chance to revive the Big Guy, even though this gizmo costs (ouch!) $25?

It does blink outside the arena and works with replaceable button batteries, if that's any consolation.

Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St., 7 p.m. tonight, 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. tomorrow, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, $45-$200, 800-298-4200,


Phone: 215-854-5960



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