Arts & Theater

Marvel superheroes save the world in Sacramento show

The heroic cast of Marvel Universe LIVE! assembles to take on the most sinister villains in an epic battle to save the world.
The heroic cast of Marvel Universe LIVE! assembles to take on the most sinister villains in an epic battle to save the world. Feld Entertainment

The final piece in Marvel’s strategy for world domination will roll into Sacramento on March 12.

Marvel superheroes, already stars of lunchboxes, fan conventions and screens big and small, get their own arena show with “Marvel Universe Live!” running through March 15 at Sleep Train Arena.

The show will encompass seven performances and 25 Marvel characters, some of whom will perform motorcycle back flips as others erupt into spontaneous flame and/or battle each other in mid-air.

The show, on tour since July and making its first stop in Sacramento, also beat Marvel Studios and Sony – which recently announced a deal to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel movie fold occupied by the Avengers and X-Men – to the Spidey-integration punch.

“Marvel Universe Live!” includes interactions between Spider-Man and Tony Stark, and between Spider-Man and Loki, villain from “Thor” and “The Avengers.”

The show further breaks down cinematic walls between Marvel characters by pairing Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk, with X-Men’s Wolverine for a trip to Loki’s lair.

“This is the first time we have this many characters together all at once,” said Chris Nobels, the live show’s director of operations. Marvel comic books may contain stories where characters “come and go” from one another’s narratives, Nobels said, but 25 heroes and villains joined for a two-hour show is unprecedented.

The show’s story, involving an all-powerful Cosmic Cube pounded into bits by Thor to keep it from evil clutches, Loki’s bid to clone it, and the Marvel superheroes joining forces to stop Loki, also might tide over movie fans until “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” opens May 1.

Nobels works for Feld Entertainment, the Florida company that also puts on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and Disney on Ice.

It is a massive undertaking to try to re-create, in a live setting, thrills that on a big screen are enhanced by computer-generated imagery. “Marvel Universe Live!” travels with 53 performers, 51 crew members and 28 semi-trucks loaded with sets and equipment. The live show employs wire work, pyrotechnics and ingenuity.

“We did a lot of research and development,” Nobels said of a two-year period during which Feld Entertainment developed the show with Marvel. For instance, the show’s developers figured out, “through engineering,” Nobels said, how to flip over and torch a car. And then do it again the next night with the same car.

The car contains “the right bumpers and pads in the right places, to condition the impact,” Nobels said.

He was cagier about how Bruce Banner transforms each night into his big green counterpart before audience members’ eyes.

How does that happen?

“When Bruce gets really angry, he turns into the Hulk,” Nobels said by way of non-answer.

Nobels clearly does not want to reveal all the show’s secrets. But the key secret to the show, according to veteran Hollywood stunt professional Gary Davis, was intense preparation.

Feld Entertainment brought in Davis, an Auburn resident, during the show’s training and rehearsal period to teach proper techniques for motorcycle lay-downs and wheelies. Davis also oversaw back-flip maneuvers and helped with choreography in general, he said.

Performers playing superheroes and villains lip-sync to dialogue recorded by voice actors from Marvel animated series. Physically, though, the live performers do double or triple duty.

“They brought in good motorcycle people, and good trapeze people,” Davis said. “(Then) the motorcycle people had to learn fight routines, and the trapeze people had to learn to use swords.”

The practice space at Feld headquarters in Florida became “one big classroom” during the weeks he spent there, Davis said. “Every hour or hour and a half, there would be a different group of (performers). They would go to me, then they would go to trapeze. They were always circulating.”

Davis worked on the first “Thor” film, the two “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies and on “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” but never before on an arena show. He did not find orchestrating motorcycle stunts for an indoor setting to be constraining.

“It just as easily could be a chase through a mall or casino” that one might see in a film, Davis said. Indoor chases bring more concerns about fumes, however. Most motorcycles used in “Marvel Universe Live!” are electric, he said.

When Davis left Florida last year, the “Marvel Universe Live!” performers still faced several more weeks of preparation. He will see the completed show for the first time in Sacramento.

“I want to see if the choreography is the same as when I left,” Davis said.

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

Marvel Universe Live!

When: 7 p.m. March 12 and 13; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. March 14; 1 and 5 p.m. March 15

Where: Sleep Train Arena, One Sports Parkway, Sacramento

Cost: $15-$95

Information: (800) 745-3000;