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Ain't technology grand? With $20 million and six years, a worldwide production team has just about managed to resurrect the dinosaurs. Yesterday, the massive stage show “Walking with Dinosaurs: The Live Experience” lumbered into Alltel Arena, for the first of seven shows that will run through this Sunday.
Derived from a BBC documentary series, “Walking with Dinosaurs,” which attracted a brachiosaur-sized 770 million viewers from the time it first aired in 1999 through its run on the Discovery Channel, “The Live Experience” promises to be every bit as epic and realistic. The 90-minute stage production features 15 frighteningly life-like dinos interacting across the arena floor as a safari-clad, Indiana Jones-style “paleontologist” narrates the action.
The show's creator, Bruce McTaggart, says he developed “The Live Experience” while trying to conceive a show that would appeal to people of all ages, but families in particular. “Traditionally, what's called family entertainment tends to be driven by children only,” McTaggart said by phone from Portland, Ore. “As a parent you go along and tap your fingers and wonder when the show will be over.”
That's not likely with this production, which seems to almost introduce a new genre to live entertainment. The use of arena space is unprecedented, says McTaggart, who spent years managing a large arena in Melbourne, Australia. For instance, the brachiosaur, the show's largest dino, stands almost 50 feet tall when fully erect. That's roughly the height of a four-story building, an assurance that even the cheap seats will be up close and personal with the action.
Then, of course, there's the technological side of the production to dig your teeth into. Scrupulously modeled on contemporary paleontology, the dinos are made of lightweight steel covered by scaly latex skin. It takes 27 tractor-trailer truckloads of gear and a crew of more than 150 to breathe life into the giant beasts. The smaller dinosaurs, like the baby T-Rex and the Utahraptors, which are both in the neighborhood of 7 feet tall and 15 feet long, have puppeteers inside them. The larger lizards, on the other hand, require three controllers — one who drives the dinosaur from inside its base (a large, low-to-the-ground base with wheels), another who controls the beast's fine movements, like blinks and roars, from above, and yet another who operates a scale model of the dino, or “voodoo rig” as the production team calls it, which is attached to his arm to fluidly coordinate the dinosaur's moves.
The show's narrative follows an equally grand plot that stretches 163 million years from plate tectonics to the advent of the dung beetle. There's educational value, McTaggart says, but of a variety he calls “edu-tainment” that's guaranteed not to put you to sleep.
Lest you worry that your toddler won't be able to handle the sight of a teeth-baring T. Rex, McTaggart says that, for the most part, kids seem to be awe-struck, not terrified. That Huxley, the “paleontologist,” is walking unharmed among the lumbering beasts also helps mitigate against concern, McTaggart says.
After a sell-out 10-week run in Australia and more than 100 successful shows in the U.S., the show appears to be a huge hit, one that's already got McTaggart contemplating a bigger and better part two. But how to top something this epic? How about finding a 200-million-year-old piece of amber with a mosquito in it and going the deserted island route?
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