Back in 1978, the Superman movie franchise — and the entire superhero genre — was launched with a simple tagline: ”You’ll believe a man can fly.” There’s a similar magic in How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular, a stage version of DreamWorks Animation’s 2010 cartoon hit that just began a six-month North American tour in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The arena-size production features actors riding 3,200-pound animatronic dragons that look almost real and actually do take flight — with the help of some amazing stagecraft. It’s a marvelous moment when Hiccup (Riley Miner and Rarmian Newton alternate in the role), a jittery young Viking eager to earn his horns, climbs aboard one of the deadly dragons his clan has sworn to destroy.
The show blends various entertainment forms, sometimes ingeniously. At one point, the acrobatic Hiccup scales a giant movie-screen backdrop, maneuvering on a tether while explosions and crumbling cliffs are projected around him. It’s a dazzling fusion of art and athleticism. At other times, though, the ”spectacular” elements only bog down the action. Cirque du Soleil fans might appreciate all the bells and whistles — break dancing, shadow puppetry, loud blasts of controlled fire — but some scenes feel like a limp parody of a Scandinavia-set Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
Whenever the two-hour show begins to drag, another blazing dragon is bound to appear. Though the creatures circle and hover more than they soar, wide-eyed children will emerge from the darkness wanting to believe. That’s enough to make any parent feel like Superman. B
(Schedule and tickets: dreamworksdragonslive.com)