On Sunday night the cast and crew of Marvel Universe Live! left San Antonio after their last performance, immediately driving toward Dallas to rest and recharge for the week ahead. Starting Monday the crew entered American Airlines Center to build their intricate set designed to wow an arena of spectators. By Wednesday the set was finished, the cast was rehearsing, and Thursday they perform live in front of a crowd. This is a standard work week for the cast and crew that make Marvel Universe Live!
Marvel Universe Live! is one part stage play, one part stunt show, starring a large majority of the Marvel heroes and villains who appear within the pages of monthly comic books and the juggernaut movie franchise. Pyrotechnic explosions will fill the arena as Spider-Man swings in to put a stop to the Green Goblin’s schemes, while Captain America gets an assist from the Guardians of the Galaxy to take on Loki.
If you think this sounds like a circus for the pop-culturally obsessed, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. The show is produced by Feld Entertainment, known for their work with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice and Monster Energy Supercross. Much like their other productions, Feld will tour Marvel Universe Live! from city to city, staying in the U.S. for the rest of 2018 and touring internationally in 2019.
Rebecca Williams, costume manager for Marvel Universe Live!, works with the many outfits used for the stage show. Each costume, from the design stage to having the last buckle fastened onto the performer, will take roughly two years to complete. Finishing touches will continue in the last month leading to showtime, with an estimated 800 hours of hand painting done collectively on all the items in the wardrobe.
“Our designer, Mark Cost, tried integrating a little bit of known stuff so that known things from comic books, from the movies, a little bit from here and there, to make sure that people recognized it all around,” Williams says. “The kids are going to be able to connect to the XD series as well as the movies, and then the adults as well.”
Williams says that the design for the heroes costumes was based on the Age of Ultron Marvel comics story line, but there was an effort to create looks for the show that carried universal appeal. This alone can be a tightrope to walk with fans, as there are numerous iterations of each superhero and villain throughout the years.
“[Black Panther] went through multiple versions,” Williams says. “The movie wasn’t out at the time, but we had images from the movie, and the movie was going to come out, so [Strong] had to connect the movie, but he also had to connect all the comic books. So there’s a lot of research in our wardrobe bibles with comic book references, with movie references, to try and kind of meld them together.”
Two of the cast members of Marvel Universe Live!, Isaac Spooner, who plays Star-Lord, and Seth Carnes, who recently joined the cast as part of the ensemble and understudy, discussed the work it takes to master the stunts for a 90-minute show.
“We built the show in roughly two months,” Spooner says. “It was eight-hour days, six days a week. So that was a pretty grueling process.”
A weeklong boot camp was created to catch the new cast members, like Carnes, up to speed on the specialized technique used for the show.
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“We pretty much have a standardized system for all our fighting,” Carnes says. "Even though certain characters have specific moves that they do, all our basic moves are standardized throughout the cast. A lot of it’s more, not so much the fights, but making sure the timing between four fights interweave together because the whole stage is lit up with people.”
Just because the moves are choreographed doesn’t mean the story looks more like dancing than fighting. These are real stunts performed by trained professionals (so kids, don’t try this at home). Nick Nieves is familiar with all the risks involved as a super swing for the show, trained to take over any male position in the cast at a moment’s notice.
“All of these techniques are real martial arts techniques,” Nieves says. “Our choreographer has been a martial artist for over 20 years; I’ve been a martial artist for over 20 years. The things that we’re doing are actual applications in the martial arts realm. The women fight with titanium swords. There’s definitely a margin of error where things can go wrong, and that’s why we train so hard. We’re not film; we do this every single time, so we have to make sure that it’s precise every single time, which is why we rehearse for so long, we train for so long. Even on our off-days, you’ll find people around the city training because we are truly striving to be masters of our craft.”
Marvel Universe Live! is in town through Aug. 12 at American Airlines Center. Tickets start at $35.