Jeffy Busby / DreamWorks

A dragon named Monstrous Nightmare takes wing in "How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular," opening Thursday at Sleep Train Arena.

'How To Train Your Dragon' live show due in Sacramento

Published: Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8TICKET

Monstrous dragons will descend on Sacramento next week.

Think two dozen Day-Glo, 2-ton, scads-of-scales, 20-foot-long behemoths with spiny tails, mischievous reptilian eyes, 40-foot wingspans and stalactite-length incisors. Now visualize them wheeling overhead, belching smoke and brimstone and, in one case, chewing up a chair and excreting it as wood-chip confetti.

That's just part of the "How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular," assaulting the senses at Sleep Train Arena from Thursday through Jan. 6.

"You're visually and physically stimulated the whole show," said Riley Miner, a 19-year-old Los Angeles-based actor who is one of two playing Hiccup, the production's human star.

"The amount of technology in our show is more than in any other production in the history of theater," Miner said.

This live version of "How To Train Your Dragon" is a collaboration between DreamWorks, maker of the Oscar-nominated 2010 animated film of the same name, and Global Creatures, an Australian firm that previously brought to life the beasties of the BBC series "Walking With Dinosaurs" in a live show two years ago.

Four years and many millions of dollars in the making, "Train Your Dragon" was more fun.

"The BBC's 'Walking With Dinosaurs' had to be correct historically," said Gavin Sainsbury, who toured the world with "Dinosaurs" and is now chief puppeteer for "How To Train Your Dragon."

"This show, we're talking DreamWorks. Mythical creatures. Comedy. Just on the natural, that's a lot more fun."

There's a reason the show's creators put "spectacular" in the title. And it's not just because of the robotic dragons that are the show's centerpiece. There are breakdancing, wall-scaling, rope-suspended Viking villagers.

And lasers.

And gut-rumbling sound effects.

And a rear wall the size of nine movie-theater screens that transforms into rugged woodlands, snow-kissed peaks and boundless, foam-flecked ocean.

Images are also projected onto the arena floor while, above, an upside-down, figure-eight monorail allows the show's latex-skinned stars to glide on updrafts or turn, spin and dive at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

None of the actions of any of the dragons is pre-programmed. The show – just like the name says – is 100 percent live.

Helping coordinate this tangle of activity are the folks in the "Voodoo Lounge" set high in the arena. Here, members of Sainsbury's team of puppeteers generate the remarkably lifelike behavior of the dragons – several dozen actions and movements per dragon. On the order of 20 different facial expressions.

Some of the puppeteers use spinelike metal contraptions with souped-up joysticks to control major physical functions, like wing flapping. Others use modified keyboards to trigger a symphony of sound effects, from snarling to purring.

Each large dragon is manned by a team of three puppeteers who manipulate body parts including mouth, wings, eyes, eyelids and tails. In the case of Toothless, there's a fourth puppeteer whose duties include tending to the lead fire breather's evocative ears.

Drivers propel the dragons around the magnetized floor. Watch for the camouflaged T-shape between each dragon's feet and legs. The driver is inside.

Together, as Miner said, the elements of the production are a sensory smorgasbord.

"We know we've done something right when the 8-year-old's jaw drops as well as their parent's," said Eric Stevens, head of live entertainment at DreamWorks Animation.

One East Coast reviewer wondered what new amazements future live shows will require to trump "How To Train Your Dragon" and hold the attention of a 10-year-old for two hours.

While the animatronic dragons are central to the oohing and aahing, at the core of "How to Train Your Dragon" is Hiccup's coming-of-age story. It's complicated a wee bit by Hiccup's befriending of Toothless, not just any old injured dragon but a supposedly vicious Night Fury, and having a father who believes the only good dragon is a dead dragon.

Other reviewers from the East Coast, where the show began playing this fall after a tour of Australia earlier in the year, note that the production tends to work best in scenes with fewer actors, like those between Hiccup and Toothless, in which the spectacle doesn't drown out the humanity of the plot's central relationships.

Has the animated movie, which grossed $500 million worldwide, been transferred wholesale to the arena? Of course not. Just like the animated movie can't fully do justice to Cressida Cowell's series of books on which it's based.

"It's not a word-for-word re-creation of the film," Salisbury said. "DreamWorks did an amazing job of taking the original book and turning that into a film, and the natural progression is adapting that film to the stage."

But Miner stresses that the message is still the same:

"Don't jump to conclusions. Treat people and animals and every living thing on this planet with respect, because you can't judge a book by its cover."


When: 7 p.m. Thursday and Jan. 4, 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Jan. 5; 1 and 5 p.m. Jan. 6

Where: Sleep Train Arena, One Sports Parkway, Sacramento

Cost: $25-$69.50

Information:, (800) 745-3000

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Read more articles by Greg Lucas Special to The Bee

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