Spider-Man may belt out rockers by those U2 guys, but "I don't want to go and see Batman singing," says producer Nick Grace.
"Batman Live," opening at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday, instead is packed with everything but show tunes: all the classic villains, trusty sidekick Robin, a "Holy mechanical marvel!" new Batmobile by racing designer Gordon Murray and a giant light-emitting diode video screen adding comic-art punch.
The Batman show, first produced last year in London last year, developed on a parallel track with "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." But the closely scrutinized Broadway musical "wasn't influential" on the arena project, Grace says.
There is in fact a Batman musical project by Meat Loaf composer Jim Steinman stuck somewhere in the vaults of the Warner Bros. theatrical division. But "I grew up with Batman and I didn't even think about the idea of making it into a musical," Grace says.
Instead, Grace recalls his pitch meeting to Batman's corporate keepers at Time Warner 3½ years ago as this:
"It's not a musical, we're not gonna sit down in a theater. We're going to go into an arena and make a big statement because it's Batman. He's such an iconic character, we want to make a big statement."
And so they did. "Batman Live" has 42 actors, acrobatics, circus stunts, illusions and pyrotechnics. It's all overseen by director Anthony Van Laast, who helped launch the modern era of Las Vegas entertainment with his work on "Siegfried & Roy at The Mirage" (perhaps explaining why the Joker kicks off Act Two by doing magic tricks).
But Grace must battle the formidable foes of Confusion and Misperception: If it's an arena show it must be ... what? One of those kiddie things where people in overstuffed foam costumes skate around to recorded dialogue?
"It's actually a difficult show to explain to people because it is quite unique," Grace says. But all the actors speak live, and the script is by an actual comic book writer, Allan Heinberg, retelling the origin of Robin.
"We were really tough about the audition process. I wanted to get really good actors," Van Laast says. "We were very rigorous with the storytelling."
The goal was to create an accessible family show that holds up to fanboy scrutiny with insider references to Batman lore.
"We're not doing Batman like the recent films, not in that dark vein," Van Laast says.
The more direct inspirations are "Batman: The Animated Series" - which debuted in the early '90s on weekday afternoons, but soon caught fire with older fans - and the comic-book artwork of fan favorite Jim Lee.
"Every generation has their memories of growing up with Batman," Grace says. "You can be a parent and want to see it as much as your kid. But you can also come without kids."
Batman has proven adaptable to all age level of product, but Van Laast says he quickly learned the character is still closely guarded by DC Comics.
"First of all I had to be vetted by them, then the whole team had to be vetted and passed," he says. "Then, every step along the way we had to pass through DC. Every costume design, every word in the script, every set design.
"It was tough to begin with. I'm used to being a bit more of a dictator," Van Laast says with a laugh. "But I respect that, because they look after their brands, and they look after Batman. Which means that if something comes out and it's DC-approved, you know it's going to be well looked after."
Van Laast is a go-to guy for such a project after conquering mechanical dragons with Siegfried and Roy at The Mirage and Michael Crawford in "EFX" at the MGM Grand.
"Good theater works at any size, and I think good theater done big is excellent," he says. The danger is that if "it's big and it's bad, it's magnified."
The challenge was not to "lose the story very quickly in all the pyrotechnics," he says. "When you've got Batmobiles, stunts and fire effects going on, your whole time and effort and energy can be consumed with the pyrotechnics rather than actually looking at the story."
But when the U.S. version of the show debuted in Anaheim, Calif., the British producer and director both noticed how American audiences cheered the entry of each hero and villain.
"Batman and the superheroes are our contemporary mythology, and I think that mythology's much more relevant in this country than it is in Europe," Van Laast says.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at email@example.com or 702-383-0288.