Imagining possibilities, by gosh, by Gotham

Batman today, King Kong tomorrow?

Commercials for the “Batman Live” show coming to the Thomas & Mack Center Oct. 3-7 have some of us calling it “Cirque du Batman.” I mean that in the nicest way.

The $19 million “Batman” show reawakens dormant possibilities for Las Vegas entertainment. Before the recession, we seemed to be headed toward a new, hybrid form of theater.

When I heard about a stage version of “King Kong” being put up in Australia – with the star designed by the engineers behind “Walking With Dinosaurs” – I immediately thought of the Strip. If it’s any good, of course, it could be something unique, yet with as much name recognition as a Michael Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil.

But for now, that realm of experimentation has moved to sports arenas.

“I love the arena environment,” says “Batman” managing producer Nick Grace. “If you put a show into an arena, you’re making a big statement. Audiences are very sophisticated these days. They’ve been to all the big rock and roll shows (so) if you’re going into an arena, you have to deliver.”

But, Grace adds, “the difference I think with a lot of shows on the Strip is that we have a story. The core, the heart of our production, is the story. And we want people to invest in the story and invest in the characters. Otherwise, it’s just another light and sound show.”

While rehearsing the “Batman” tour for two weeks at the Thomas & Mack, Grace went to see other Las Vegas shows and feels the “Batman” show “could quite happily sit in Las Vegas” – if he could convince casino executives “we appeal to all ages.”

Coincidentally, Las Vegas is the hatching ground for a future arena hybrid called “Aussie Adventure.”

Last spring, country star Clint Black quietly visited the former Reed Whipple Cultural Center for a workshop version of the arena musical he is scoring.

“It’s really a Broadway show,” says Michael Gill, producer of the venture, which is set to launch a national tour in Las Vegas in the fall of next year. “The only reason we’re set in arenas is because we have 35 horses.

“To me, there seemed to be a void in what I’d call family entertainment that isn’t dumbed down,” Gill says of the original story about an American rancher and his daughter moving to Australia in 1901.

But this one, he says, “is for the locals.” Batman may some day fight crime on the Strip, but “Las Vegas for us just happens to be another mid-American stop.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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