Big thank you to Dustin, and everyone at TheBatmanUniverse.net for two tickets to see Batman: Live at my chosen venue, The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow on August the 3rd of this year, which was the opening night, for Batman: Live here in Glasgow.
Batman: Live is the retelling of the origin of Dick Grayson, from boyhood acrobat, to the boy wonder. A classic story that anyone who has seen the movie “Batman Forever” can tell you about, so it was certainly a mighty task for the Batman: Live team to try and reinvigorate this story, and try and have a new spin on it, that would not only be faithful to the boy wonders origin, but also interesting in its own way.
They succeeded. Batman: Live is one of the most fun experiences I have had going to any staged show in who knows how long. The story opens with the origins of Batman, with Bruce coming out of Zorro with his parents, not long is spent on this part of the story.
Most people know how this part of the story goes, and the stage show just catches the audience up in things, there is no mention of Joe Chill, or the confusing events of later Batman stories, such as Joe Chill and Batman working together in the bafflingly strange: Batman Year 2, or other stories where Chill is an active part of Batman’s life. Here it is back to the basics, the Wayne’s are robbed, Thomas fights back and he and Martha are killed for their troubles.
The story then skips ahead a good few years into the future and Commissioner Gordon telling Bruce Wayne “I don’t like clowns” as they stand outside of the Haley’s Circus tent.
It’s at this point, I should mention that although there is a stage, which is about forty feet long, they still use a gigantic 3-D video screen to show the true scale of things, such as Haley’s circus, and the buildings of Gotham, and also to transition scenes, a comic is used as the background is moved along, like you are reading something from an actual Batman comic.
Next the Graysons come out to talk about their act later in the evening when a strange man known as Tony Zucco comes up to John Grayson and says “You haven’t paid your protection money. Bad things will happen if you don’t pay…” Mr. Grayson flat out refuses to pay Mr. Zucco and goes back to planning his show later in the evening.
After this we are then treated to one of the most elaborate staged circus performances you will likely see outside of an actual circus. The gymnastics on display are at times spectacular, sure most of the performers are using wires, but that in no way is taking away from the action, wires or no wires, there performers are doing some incredible jumping and flipping work. Next we have the Grayson elders showing their acrobatic ability, as son Dick watches on, again you will probably notice that the performers are wearing wires, but the strength it takes to soar so high into the ceiling, that noticing the wires doesn’t mean you will catch any sane person doing what these trapeze artists can do. Then two gunshots are fired, and the Grayson elders are dead and slowing descend 30 feet to the ground, as Dick watches on.
Commissioner Gordon then asks Bruce Wayne if he would mind taking Dick Grayson back to his mansion for a while, Bruce agrees and takes Dick back to Wayne Manor.
Dick at Wayne Manor talks to Bruce about how he is going to take down Tony Zucco, as he is convinced that he is the man who took his parents lives. Bruce says that is not all about vengeance, and he has to move past this, as the Bat-signal shines in the window and Dick says he wishes he could be more like Batman.
Next we come to the Iceberg Lounge and a song and dance about how great the Penguins club is. Catwoman appears and asks The Penguin if he would help her find Tony Zucco, as they were an item at one point, and Catwoman may still have feelings for him. The Riddler appears and cuts into the conversation saying that he, The Penguin and Catwoman should team up to take down Batman, and in comes Two-Face who says they have two choices, he will either join them, or he will kill them all, it all depends on the flip of his coin. Catwoman grabs the coin and notices that the coin is double sided, meaning she doesn’t trust Two-Face not to kill them. To which Two-Face reminds her that one head is heavily scarred, and that is the bad side of Two-Face.
The 3-D screen shows the coin flipping in the air and comes down good heads, which means the team up is set in motion, when incomes Tony Zucco who says someone is after him, Penguin asks who, and the rogues look off to the screen behind them, where a Bat-Signal shines into the building, and moments later in comes Batman to take them all down.
Batman gets into a fist fight with all of his rogues and is left with Zucco who starts to laugh as Batman asks who hires him, Zucco is too busy laughing to respond and dies, and we see on the giant screen that Zucco’s smiling from ear to ear.
The person who hired Tony Zucco to kill the Graysons was the Joker.
Dick decides to visit Haley’s Circus by himself and after only being gone for a day, the place seems a bit run down, Dick shouts out to his old circus friends, who don’t appear, but the Joker's henchman do answer Dick’s call.
Harley Quinn mentions that the circuses is now Joker Property and out of an elaborate jack-in-the-box springs the Joker who is swinging high towards the ceiling still springing back and forth.
The Joker then beats up Dick Grayson and says he is using Dick as bait now to get Batman, or he will use him as bait, if the Joker doesn’t feel like killing him first. Joker then takes us through his own magic show, with special assistant Harley Quinn, who the Joker quite happily, stabs, shoots and blows up all in the space of five glorious minutes of funny, magical humor.
The Joker/Harley relationship is exactly what fans of the comics, Batman: The Animated Series and The Batman cartoon have come to expect. The Joker will outright try and kill Harley Quinn if he feels like it, and Harley will keep on crawling back to her “puddin”.
Batman shows up and takes on the dozen or so dancers/acrobats who play Joker thugs, in something reminiscent of Batman: Returns, with Batman taking on several Joker thugs at once, after escaping from the Joker’s grip, Dick fights alongside Batman and notes that they work well together, which Batman vehemently denies.
As the thugs are taken down, the Joker decides to make a run for it, and live to fight another day, he instead decides to make a rocket powered flying escape from Batman. It is so over the top and zany that you cannot help but be taken in by the outright zany, and fantastical nature of the situation.
Dick then speaks to Batman about becoming his partner and Batman remarks in a strangely proper “generic angry American voice” which I will get back to in a moment, that Dick should stick with Bruce Wayne, and that he should not try to take down the Joker. Dick responds that Bruce Wayne is a loser, and that he does not care about Dick Grayson, Batman pauses for a moment, before making his escape as Commissioner Gordon arrives on the scene and says “This is why I hate the circus.”
Bruce Wayne arrives to take Dick back home, as Dick seethes with anger about the fact that he will not be able to take down the Joker who killed his parents. Bruce tells Dick that his parents were murdered too, and he has to get over the anger, and get past wanted to kill the Joker. Dick says he wants to take the Joker down and he wants to be like Batman. Bruce says he’ll let Dick in on a secret, and brings Dick downstairs and we are introduced for the first time to the Batcave.
Now’s a good point to talk about Bruce Wayne’s Batman voice, it’s strange, not bad, just strange. After years of hearing the versions of Batman by Kevin Conroy, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Val Kilmer, Diedrich Bader, who all sound menacing, it’s so strange to get back to a proper grown up voiced Batman the likes of which I haven’t heard since Adam West played Batman. The voice does not sound out of place, but it is still something that made me take a step back after first hearing Batman speak and say “Sorry….what?” However, after his second line, this Batman voice goes along with the rest as entertaining and enjoyable in its own right.
We are introduced to the Batcave, which is mostly on the 50 foot 3-D screen, however because it’s a 3-D screen, it still looks incredible, and at no point do you feel jipped that the set designer did not make a life sized dinosaur for the cave layout.
Bruce talks to Dick and slowly gets Dick to understand that he has to send the Joker to prison for his actions, and murder is not the right way. Dick agrees and wants to partner up with Batman, but Bruce see’s things a little differently and asks Alfred to train Dick. Dick asks how long the training will take, Bruce says years, and Alfred says he once trained Bruce, but he is a lot older now, and training will take a bit longer with “Young Master Dick.” Especially since one of the first things Dick will have to learn, is how to make a good cup of tea.
As they are talking, Batman receives a call from Commissioner Gordon, who tells Batman that the Joker has taken over Arkham and released several of Batman’s rogues, including:
Along with whatever crazies he could find on his way. Bruce says he needs to use the car and in comes the Batmobile. The Batmobile looks a lot like the Batman: Forever Batmobile, it is sleek, and nice, but a bit flashy, and still believable as something Batman would drive.
Bruce runs off to take on the rogues as he tells Dick he still needs to do more training with Alfred and Batman will just have to do this fight on his own.
As Batman drives to the scene Alfred talks to Dick about training, but Dick wants to go help Batman, Alfred says he was hoping Dick would say that, and reveals the Robin costume, and says “The circus crusader!” Dick tells Alfred “We’ll work on a name later…”
Batman arrives at the asylum, which is decked out with dead bodies, hanging from butcher hooks in strait jackets when who should appear, but a 15 foot high Scarecrow, shooting out fear toxins at Batman. The Scarecrow look here seems to owe a lot more to the Scarecrow costume from Batman: Arkham Asylum than it does the comics, or Batman Begins, not that I’m complaining that costume, and the size of the Scarecrow was downright scary.
The rogues follow this up with an attack from femme fatal, Poison Ivy, who asks Batman to stop the fighting and just “Make love, not war” Batman, caught up in the moment agrees, and almost kisses Miss Ivy, before the rest of the rogues make their entrance to take down The Dark Knight, but then who should come crashing in, but The Boy Wonder, making his million dollar debut!
What a moment this was, everyone in the audience knew that Robin was going to make his debut and save Batman, but that didn’t stop everyone bursting out with cheers and applause for Robin coming in to help Batman take down the rogues.
Catwoman decides to join Batman and Robin to take down the rogues in a good solid ten minute fight scene before the Joker is taken down by Robin, in one of my favorite moments, as Robin slams Joker’s head into the ground he screams “This is for John and Mary Grayson!!” Joker just pulls a confused look on his face and asks “Who?” as Robin slams him to the ground one more time, for a round of cheers.
The rogues are carted off and only Batman, Robin, Catwoman and the Joker are left; Joker is just about to pay for his actions, when Harley Quinn shows up with a bazooka, saying that she and the Joker are going to be making their escape and leaving Gotham for a while. As Harley monologues the Joker slips away to fight another day.
As Catwoman informs Harley that the Joker bailed on her, the 3-D screen slides open to reveal a full sized hot air balloon emblazoned with the Joker's face. Harley asks the Joker to lower down and pick her up, Joker responds by saying that’s alright, he doesn’t need Harley anymore. Harley responds quite happily by cursing out her Mr J, and shooting off the bazooka right at his hot air ballooned face, causing the structure to crash and burn into the ocean as Harley runs off realizing she may have hurt her puddin.
Catwoman notes that Batman and Robin make a good team as she decides she has outstayed her welcome at Arkham and slips off, as Robin tells Batman they do make a good team. Batman nods and says they have to go, as it’s still early, and Gotham still needs them, as the runoff into the Batmobile, as the show ends. The actors all come out for a round of well deserved applause.
Batman: Live is a fantastic show, the actors all try to give their all for every moment they are on stage, and of particular noteworthy mention is the Joker, he comes across as comically mad, but at the same time menacing. The costumes and set do not come across as cheap, a lot of time and money was spent on making the costumes look and feel as real as possible, and the additions of the Batmobile, a Joker hot air balloon and a Joker-mobile, a Joker house at the entrance of Arkham, and so many other elaborate sets and props make this feel more like a big budget movie, than just a stage show with a new interpretation of the origin of Dick Grayson.
The idea of the Joker being the idea man behind the death of Dick’s parents is not something I would go out of my way to say would ever be a good thing, but in this show it really does work, it adds an extra layer to the Joker’s madness and gives Dick a reason to fight alongside Batman, other than just idolizing the guy.
This was a fantastic show, and I had a great time watching the show. If and when it comes near you, do yourself a favor and check it out, and I can only hope, that at some point, this show is released on DVD/Blu-ray so’s that I can relive the magic that was Batman: Live all over again.
Reviewed by Austen Beattie