Causing an Uproar

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A Tyrannosaurus Rex and her baby in a scene from Walking With Dinosaurs–the Arena Spectacular, playing through Sunday at Staples Center. (Photos: Joan Marcus/Global Creatures)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Entertainment Editor

Sure, there were plenty of kids in attendance –including my own–but I quickly discovered myself as enraptured as any of them…perhaps more so.

The mesmerizing visuals that had me and scores of school-aged witnesses so engaged was a performance of Walking With Dinosaurs, last week at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The Arena Spectacular, as its billed, moves to the L.A. Staples Center today, for a run through Sunday.

The show, conceived to present the most realistic encounter possible with the prehistoric creatures, obviously had size parameters to consider. After all–as my 4-year-old son is quick to remind me–Brachiosaurus was 40 feet high, 80 feet long and weighed as much as 20 elephants, so you’d need a space of decent size for that kind of roundup.

With all due respect to Ed Sullivan, this is a really big show.

Los Angeles is the final stop for the dinos, the end of a more than three-year North American tour. The show has played to some four million people and cost more than $20 million, according to the organizers.

“We are the largest, most technologically advanced puppet show in the world,” laughed Lynda Lavin, the resident director who has been chiefly responsible for wrangling people and reptiles during much of the tour. “We have developed ideas and technology that makes all of this possible, to make it seem as if these magnificent creatures are alive and right in front of you.”

Lavin said the Creature Production Company, which has created the live show based on the hit BBC television documentary series of the same name, had to consider all possibilities to overcome the logistical obstacles to presenting a living, breathing dinosaur.

While some of the smaller animals are essentially 100-pound suits with a performer inside, the larger–okay, gigantic–creatures are state-of-the-art marvels of animatronics, each with a team of puppeteers operating the huge machines remotely.

“Predictably, because of their size, we can only play arenas,” Lavin said, “But we try very hard to maintain the artistic integrity of the show.”

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the entire production is the simple fact that despite having a pretty keen knowledge of what you’ll see long before arriving, the visage of the great creatures is nonetheless breathtaking.

“I think people come knowing what to expect, and still they’re amazed. We’re proud of that,” Lavin said.

The Natural History Museum in Exposition Park had a scaled-down rendition of sorts recently, during which a dino-suited performer walked amongst frenzied guests in one of the facility’s larger halls. If you attended one of those talks, you’d expect that “Walking With Dinosaurs” depends heavily on a healthy suspension of belief in order to work effectively. Sure, your brain understands why the wires are there, why the Tyrannosaurus Rex walks along while straddling a rolling base and why the Triassic predator Liliensternus seems to sport an extra pair of humanoid legs…

But it never takes you out of the moment, never distracts from the majestic quality with which the bodies you’re watching move in the most natural of ways.

Liliensternus is one of three single-person-operated dinos in the show.

Lit somewhat dimly and led by a host “paleontologist,” the program is a two-act overview of the life spans of dinosaurs and the time they roamed the ever-evolving planet Earth. This isn’t an educational lecture by any stretch, although you’ll likely come away with a few newly-discovered nuggets of fact. There’s even a steaming hunk of dino poop.

Not surprisingly, the show is a monster hit with the little ones, many of whom were sporting foam T-Rex hats during the Anaheim performance. Four-year-old Katie Choi of Irvine said the Brachiosaurus was her favorite of all the dinosaurs. Why?

“It’s big, really big,” she whispered.

Lavin said the arena show has played to audiences around the world, including a completely sold-out tour of Japan. She said the spectacle of being transported to a world lost in time transcends all languages and cultures.

“It’s really family-oriented, no matter what kind of family or where they live,” she explained. “We get kids age 9 to 90 who are fascinated by the technology. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever see to a real dinosaur.”

Walking With Dinosaurs-The Arena Spectacular will have seven performances at Staples Center, through Sunday. Tickets are from $39 to $79 at the box office, through Ticketmaster or by phone at (213) 480-3232.

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