Arts & Culture: Big freakin' dinosaurs rule!




The Orlando area already has more than its share of dinosaurs. They have featured roles in two of Disneyâ??s parks, one of Universalâ??s and an entire ghetto-tastic tourist trap of their own off I-4 on the way to Tampa. My girlfriend insists that the giant reptiles never went extinct at all, but merely wait in woods, ready to re-emerge and retake Florida at a momentâ??s notice. I always laughed off her semi-serious speculation, but not anymore. After seeing Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience at the Amway Arena Wednesday night, Iâ??m a true believer. These lizards are alive!


Walking With Dinosaurs, a live theatrical spinoff of the well-respected BBC documentary series, stomps into Orlando after originating in Australia last year. The show begins with Huxley (performed by either James Roberts or Jonathan Bliss), a paleontologist with a kid-friendly patter, introducing us to the ancient origins of dinosaur life in the form of a cracking egg. From the first tiny hatchling to towering four-story giants, the show delivers a rapid-fire science lesson that skims through 200 million years in under 100 minutes. Superbly slick stagecraft â?? featuring rock concert-quality sound and Broadway-worthy lighting â?? simulates earth-shaking events like the separation of the ancient continent Pangaea with a visceral punch. Quieter effects, like the inflatable flower foliage of the Jurassic era, evoke equally surprising moments of moving beauty.

But the real stars of the show are the 15 life-size dinos that dominate the arena floor. Ranging in size from 8-foot-tall utahraptors to a breathtaking 48-foot-long brachiosaur, these robotic beasts arenâ??t programmed automatons, but oversized puppets operated on-the-fly by live performers. They feature a lifelike fluidity that doesnâ??t merely surpass the local amusement-park animatronics but makes them look pathetically dated. Sure, the smaller â??suitâ?� dinos expose the leotarded-legs of their operators (from behind they look like theyâ??re breach-birthing a puppeteer), and the larger ones rely on sleds full of electronics for stability. But they walk with such a realistic sense of weight that you can easily imagine that they are propelling their underbelly equipment, instead of vice versa.

At times during the show, my internal critic would speak up, whining that the pacing is occasionally slack and that the script could stand some sharpening. Then my inner child would lean forward, smack my cynical self in the back of the head, and Iâ??d return to slack-jawed rapture. I donâ??t think I was alone: Every time the soaring orchestral score dipped into momentary silence you could hear scores of children murmuring in excited wonder, and their parents joined in the emotion-laden â??awwwsâ?� as the mommy T. rex nuzzled her offspring. By the end, the only real complaint I had was that they didnâ??t parade all the dinosaurs at the end for a farewell encore. An hour and a half in this amazing world was just not enough.

The show works on multiple levels: as easy-to-swallow education, cutting-edge technical demonstration and stirring theatrical spectacle. What I didnâ??t expect was that it would be such an accessible and unapologetic introduction to evolutionary theory. The essential truths of Darwinist biological development are demonstrated in such a straightforward fashion that even a die-hard Intelligent Design devotee would be hard-pressed to dissent. If you know anyone still confounded by Young Earth creationism, send them to this show. Youâ??ll be doing Orlandoâ??s collective IQ a big favor.

â?? by Seth Kubersky


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