Coming to America
Q&A with Batman Live! Producer Nick Grace on the show's American debut
- by Jessica Boudevin
- Published: September 5, 2012
Kamran Darabi-Ford and Sam Heughan, in character as Robin and Batman, present the batmobile during Batman Live! rehearsal at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Batman Live! premiers in America tonight, Sept. 5, at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The production kicked off in the UK in 2011, where it debuted at Manchester Arena and went on to gross $2.9 million in 17 shows at London’s O2 Arena. It has since been performed in multiple languages including German, French and Czech. The show’s producer, Nick Grace, sat down with Venues Today to discuss why his pitch worked and why he’s glad to be speaking English again.
Batman Live! Producer Nick Grace
You’re in the U.S. until December. Any plans to add some East Coast dates to the tour?
We will be but, at the moment, we’re concentrating on the West Coast. It’s a big country and we’re just taking it as we come on it. The rest of 2012 is now on sale, so we’re actually selling tickets right up until the end of December.
How did you make the decision to bring the show to the U.S.?
It was always part of the plan. We started in the U.K. because I’m based in the U.K. and the creative team that we wanted to use was based in the U.K. and they’re a world-class creative team and, to get them together, that’s where we had to start. But North America is the home of Batman. It’s always been our target to be here, so it’s exciting that tonight we’re actually starting our North American tour.
You pitched this show to Warner Brothers a number of years ago. What do you think finally convinced them to give the green light on it?
Warner Brothers said yes quite quickly when I met them. I was trying to find the ultimate family show and top of my list was Batman. And I went in thinking that many, many people must have asked for the rights for a live show. I think what they liked about my pitch was that it wasn’t a musical and it wasn’t sitting down in a theater. We wanted to take it around the world and we wanted to do it in an arena, which is a big statement. And Batman is such an iconic figure that they liked the idea that we were making this big statement. I think they also liked the creative team, because I put most of the team together before I pitched the show.
Is it the same creative team as Mamma Mia!?
Anthony Van Laast, who’s our director, choreographed Mamma Mia!; and I produced the international tour. But Anthony and I are probably the only people who have a link to Mamma Mia! But we have a fantastic creative team. Patrick Woodroofe, our lighting designer, is the Rolling Stones lighting designer, and lit the opening and the closing of the London Olympics, which was amazing. And Es Devlin, who’s our production designer, works in European opera houses and works for Lady Gaga. She designed the ceremony for the London Olympics. We have people who have worked in theatre. It was very important to me to find creative people who were very theatrical and worked in theatre but could also work on a big stage. So these people who have worked with the Rolling Stones, U2, and Lady Gaga know how to present something on a big stage and go into a space like Honda Center and go, ‘Oh my God.’
Do you work with local promoters?
We’re working with the arenas. The Honda Center here invited us to host the premier and it’s a fantastic facility so, of course, we said yes.
Is that how the tour was in England, also?
We produce the show and then work with local presenters, which could be a local promoter or an arena. In Europe it’s normally a local presenter and then they hire the arenas; but in North America it’s normally the arenas that are happy to present the show.
What have been the highest-attended shows to date?
I think when we did the O2 in London. That was fantastic. We sold 75,000 tickets in a week, which was great. It’s like a rock n’ roll tour, and Batman is our rock n’ roll hero.
Have you made changes to adapt the show for U.S. audiences or venues?
We finished the first year and then had four weeks of rehearsals because about half the cast and crew are new because everyone has a year’s contract. We performed in 15 countries in the first year. So we had a new rehearsal period and in a year’s time we’ll have another rehearsal period. We’ve tightened up the show a bit but there’s nothing we’ve changed specifically for North America.
Are you expecting the reception to be different here from in other countries?
Batman, obviously, is a hugely popular brand in Europe. But everyone in North America has grown up with comics and superheroes. In South America, actually, they were very, very lively and animated because they knew the comic world quite well, but also it’s just families coming out. I think the North American audiences are very animated and if they like it they let you know. It’s Batman, so I don’t think we’ll underdeliver.
On the set of Batman Live! during rehearsal at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
I read on the website that the World Arena Tour is a $15-million stage production – what elements account for the bulk of that number?
It’s very cutting edge technology. We have a company called Tait Towers who built all the set for us. They do all the iconic rock n’ roll tours from Madonna to U2. This is a very high-tech tour with a lot of stunts and illusions, and, of course, the video wall. You’ll see where the money went when you come see the show.
DC Comics and fans are very protective of the Batman brand – how did that affect creating a new storyline that incorporates so many famous villains?
We are true to the story. We have Warner Brothers and DC Comics talking to us every week. It’s such a successful character that we didn’t want to reinvent him, and we wanted to stay true to the Batman universe, and in the approval process as we were making the show, they helped us do that. It’s an original story; and really the writer, Allan Heinberg, was the first creative person we involved other than Anthony the director, because we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a light and sound show. We wanted people to invest in the story. The main arc of the story is Batman and Robin, but there are a whole host of super villains that play parts of the story. That was our problem at the beginning. When Warner Brothers said yes, we needed to narrow down our story. It’s so rich in possibilities because there are so many super villains. I think, for me, that makes Batman the most popular superhero because he has all of these amazing super villains and they all have these back stories. We figured out our story as the coming-of-age story of Robin. It’s not been told that often and it’s perfect for a family audience. It means we can bring the circus element into the show because he comes from the circus. But I’m sure if we picked a super villain there would be another interesting story, so maybe we’ll come back in a couple of years with part two.
What will you take away from the U.S. experience?
It’s always been my goal to play here, so if the audiences love it then it’s a job well done.
Contact: +44 (02) 0832 9829
- by Jessica Boudevin
- Published: September 5, 2012