“Maybe it takes a certain type to do this kind of work,” said the woman behind the mask. “But honestly, I’ve always loved performing and making people happy.”
You might not recognize Hilary Kadoya on stage this weekend, but you certainly won’t miss her, either. The Whittier resident is one of the high-flying stunt performers in “Marvel Universe Live: Age of Heroes,” running Thursday through Sunday at Honda Center in Anaheim.
Kadoya is in costume as Rocket Raccoon, the anthropomorphic warrior – don’t even think of calling him a rodent – who is a member of Marvel’s popular Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The character’s male voice is provided by another actor, leaving Kadoya, a 5-foot former gymnast, to focus on acrobatics.
“Wearing the costume makes it way more fun than having my face out,” Kadoya told The Rafu. “In a lot of ways, it helps me to play the character with more energy, more expression.”
In “Age of Heroes,” the Guardians have teamed up with some of Marvel Comics’ most renowned stars, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor and the Black Window, among others. The high-octane show finds our heroes in a legendary battle to defend the universe from evil.
Called on by Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy join the Avengers and the other superhuman forces on a momentous crusade against the scheming Nebula, who teams up with the conniving and loathsome villains Loki and Green Goblin. The results are clashes that pit student against mentor, sister against sister, and brother against brother.
Kadoya is a graduate of Alhambra High School who went on to major in musical theater and dance in college. At the age of 3, her tiny frame and lithe flexibility made her a perfect fit for gymnastics.
“I was very small, and when I first did the vault, my coach was worried I might not get over it,” she remembered.
After college, Kadoya performed in community theater before landing a job at Disneyland. It was there that she learned of an opportunity to join the cast of a live traveling show starring the characters of Disney’s “Phineas and Ferb.” Given her size and abilities, she was cast as the animated series’ most iconic character, the marsupial-turned-secret agent.
“I played Perry the Platypus, and that was really a lot of fun,” she said.
Kadoya has traveled the world to entertain audiences, citing the USO performances as particularly gratifying.
She said on days off, she likes to explore whatever city the show has visited.
For the current Marvel show, produced by Feld Entertainment, she has the added bonus of being able to go home between performances, noting, “It’s great to finish the night by sleeping in my own bed.”
Being home also allows her to take comfort in cooking her beloved grandma’s fried rice.
If recent shows at Staples Center are any indication, “Marvel Universe Live” is a hit, especially with the younger set, many of whom arrived in the costume of their favorite hero. Several kids were riveted as the action unfolded before them.
Many of the stunts, while not exactly death-defying, are nonetheless impressive, notably the antics of a precision team of BMX motor bikers.
The set deploys immersive video projection and cutting-edge special effects to transport the audience across the universe from the fantastical Savage Land to New York City and beyond.
The show-stopping appearance of the Hulk is a sure crowd-pleaser.
“I love the smiles, even on the adults,” Kadoya said. “It’s great because everyone really gets into the story, and if we can help them maybe escape the real world for two hours or so, I’m really happy about that.”
“Marvel Universe Live: Age of Heroes” runs July 20-23 at Honda Center in Anaheim. Showtimes: Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Other California stops include Oakland (Aug. 11-13), San Jose (Aug. 17-20), San Diego (Aug. 24-27) and Sacramento (Sept. 14-17). For tickets, go to www.marveluniverselive.com/Tickets/On_Sale