Hullo, Gentle Readers! Now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have something of a penchant for medieval fantasy. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that a Tolkien obsession took over my life when I was 8, with D&D following 2 years later. So when it turned out that Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon didn’t suck, no one was more pleased than I…except people who profited from it, that is.
A few months back, we saw some footage from a live stage version of How to Train Your Dragon. It was pretty mind-blowing, principally because the dragons were so huge and yet so fast and life-like. We slowly learned more…it was being produced by the same folks who created the creatures for the critically acclaimed Walking with Dinosaurs…it was touring Australia…the guys playing Hiccup were generally pretty adorable.
A few weeks ago through the wonderful, wonderful services of Goldstar.com (sort of a theater-lovers version of Groupon), we acquired some very inexpensive tickets to see the Live Spectacular as it came swooping through Worcester, MA. It more than lived up to expectations – it put the spectacular in Live Spectacular!
In the hopes that you might benefit from our experiences and give this show a chance, I thought I would share some thoughts on it.
Just In Case
In case you don’t know the basic story, it follows a rather scrawny, inventive, and artistic (and adorable) young Viking named Hiccup, son of Stoick, chieftain of the village of Berk. Hiccup decides that the only way to win his father’s respect is to kill one of the many dragons that plague Berk and uses a net cannon he invented to take down a Night Fury, one of the rarest and deadliest of dragons. He comes to realize that the dragon he’s taken down is a fairly gentle creature, whom he refers to as Toothless. He learns to relate to dragons, ultimately proving that they aren’t the mindless destroyers the Vikings always assumed.
In other words, it’s a nice little fable about tolerance and being open-minded. All things considered, a guy like me can relate.
Predictably, the dragons are what take center stage in the live spectacular. When they’re not on stage, it feels like we’re just leading up to them, and when they are, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of them. Despite being massive (some of them have a 40 foot and up wingspan), they move gracefully and quickly, making them seem extremely live-like. They breathe, they move, they fly. They roar and growl and…well…fart.
Toothless is the dragon we spend the most time with, of course, and he’s beautiful. He walks all around the stage, pounces like a cat, flies up into the air, and emotes extremely well through expression and voice.
Other dragons like the spiky Nadder, the Monstrous Nightmare, the lumpy Gronckle, and, of course, the absolutely gigantic Red Death, are brought to life cleverly and with great artistry. While I’m sure I’ll never seen a dragon in real life, I suspect this will be as close as I ever get…which is probably a good thing, honestly.
Okay, so it’s a family show. You have to put up with occasional break-dancing Vikings, the ridiculously choreographed acrobatics of some of the cast, and outrageous Scottish accents. Do I know why the Vikings have Scottish accents? I do not. Because realistic Norwegian accents would somehow be silly? Your guess is as good as mine, really.
What was amazing, however, was the way the scenery was presented. Rather than sets that had to be struck and set up, the back wall and floor had the scenery projected onto them. This led to some scenes like the dragon-fighting arena, with Viking banners fluttering in the breeze, or the bottom of the ocean where bubbles floated up, suggesting escaping air. It was minimalistic and brilliant at the same time.
They also used it and some acrobatic rigging to amazing effect. When Hiccup ran along a cliff, or over a bridge, he would often by lifted up in a harness rig onto the back wall where he would run…in reality just staying in one place and moving his legs and body as the scenery scrolled by him.
And when Hiccup flies on Toothless’ back, the floor and wall suggest oceans rushing by, creating an incredibly believable sensation that they’re soaring at great speed. And as Toothless banks and turns, the scenery turns with him, revealing new scenery. Really, it was pretty brilliant stuff.
A Few Caveats
While the show itself is brilliant, one must always cope with the audience and the forum for any show. We saw it at the DCU Center in Worcester, a forum replete with snacks at astronomical prices, including an I-shit-you-not-twelve-dollars! bucket of popcorn. And souvenir vendors were everywhere, selling plush dragons, plastic dragons, programs, keychains, t-shirts, and other dragon paraphernalia.
While we did buy a program to have fantastic photos of the sets and dragons, the rest definitely revealed the juvenile audience of the piece. On the other hand, much to our delight, they sold dragon wing cloaks and matching tails. We saw lots of kids adorably being dragons around the arena. RP starts early, don’tcha know.
When they weren’t being adorable, of course, they were being kids. I happen to like kids, in general, but your mileage may vary. If you don’t like crowds of kids, this is probably not the show for you. They’re everywhere, yelling , crying, and demanding snacks and toys, reckoning nothing of their parents’ shrinking wallets and purses. I saw a couple of breakdowns, but, for the most part, the kids were having a blast and being rather a lot of fun to watch flapping their wings and such.
If you didn’t like the movie, you probably want to skip the stage show, since it’s really the same story. If you don’t have kids, can’t stand kids, and don’t want to risk having to deal with unhappy kids, avoid at all costs.
If, on the other hand, you like dragons, and you want to see a really amazing spectacle, this is a good investment of time and money. Tickets can be had fairly inexpensively, so you can afford to take any rugrats or crumb crushers you might have on hand. It was a really enjoyable chance to sit back, let my imagination take over, and smile.
Have you seen any of the videos of the incredible dragons? Do you have plans to go see this show? Did you like or dislike the original movie? Let us all know.