Marvel, Circus Producer to Team Up on Live Show

Expected to open in 2014, the live action show features characters such as Spider-Man, The Hulk and Thor would tour domestic and international arenas.

By Matthew Barakat
|  Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013  |  Updated 7:42 AM PDT
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The people who bring you The Greatest Show on Earth will be taking Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor and the Fantastic Four on a worldwide road show.

Feld Entertainment Inc., which produces the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, along with a host of other live shows such as Disney on Ice, is announcing a partnership Wednesday with Marvel Entertainment to produce a live arena show featuring the Marvel universe of characters.

Exact financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. But Kenneth Feld, CEO of Vienna, Va.-based Feld Entertainment, said he expects the show to open in July 2014, and tour arenas domestically and internationally, as the company's other shows do. Production costs will likely exceed $10 million, Feld told The Associated Press in announcing the partnership.

Feld Entertainment has expanded in recent years to acquire several motor sports and monster truck shows aimed at expanding its appeal beyond the young children who go to the circus and girls who flock to the Disney shows. Feld expects the Marvel shows to appeal to older boys, comic book fans and family audiences.

Marvel's chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, said dozens of people have approached Marvel about doing a live show of some sort over the years. The partnership with Feld Entertainment was the first with which he felt comfortable.

"You always have those questions — how are you going to keep it from being goofy, or silly, or unbelievable?" Quesada said. But the level of showmanship in Feld Entertainment's other shows made an impression.

"They're already doing feats that are superhuman to begin with," Quesada said of the performers that Feld Entertainment recruits for its circus and other shows.

Feld said his company's long-standing partnership with Burbank, Calif.-based The Walt Disney Co., which acquired Marvel in 2009, helped establish a level of trust between Feld and the Marvel executives.

The show is in the early stages of development in a new training center that Feld runs in Ellenton, Fla. Feld and Marvel said there is close collaboration to ensure the characters act in ways consistent with fans' understanding. Quesada said the director — veteran choreographer Shanda Sawyer, who has directed various iterations of the Ringling circus and won Emmy awards for her television work, took a deep dive into Marvel mythology that took him aback.

"We had to pull her back," Quesada said. "I told her, 'I think you're even geeking me out.'"

Trying to bring superhuman characters to life in a live show can be daunting and even dangerous, as evidence by the difficulties suffered in launching the Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Several performers suffered injuries ranging from concussions to fractured skulls in what became the most expensive show in Broadway history. The $75 million show has since become one of Broadway's top earners.

"What they tried to do was new for them, but it's the stuff we do all the time in a lot of our businesses," Feld said.

The Marvel universe has thousands of characters — some household names and others known only to the most devoted fans. Feld said a live show provides an opportunity to present a wide variety of Marvel characters in a way that will appeal to even casual fans.

"There's so much mythology and lore with all of these characters — it's like going into this treasure chest of unbelievable gems," Feld said. "There are almost unlimited stories and shows we can create off these properties and characters."

While details of the show remain either under wraps or under development, Feld said the basic plotline is a no-brainer: "The world will be in jeopardy, and the Marvel superheroes will save the world."

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