Event Review: Dinosaurs roam Houston
For once, the roar of the crowd at the Toyota Center was drowned out by the roars of the show.
Brought to life in full-muscled, full-throated glory, Walking with Dinosaurs: The Live Experience is for anyone who’s ever loved the prehistoric beasts.
Visually, the animatronic dinosaurs are stunning. They move fluidly about the arena floor, gazing into the audience with what seems to be real curiosity and personality as they prowl for food, watch for romantic rivals or even threaten the audience’s paleontologist guide, Huxley.
The smaller dinosaurs especially are lively, agile animals that make it easy to believe you’ve traveled millions of years into the past. Of course, they’re small only in a manner of speaking – even the Utahraptors, the smallest reptiles in the show, are 14 feet long.
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The show presents a broad narrative of the history of the Earth from the late Triassic period (about 220 million years ago) to the late Cretaceous period (about 65 million years ago) – the end of the dinosaurs. Huxley narrates along the way, and his presence reminds the audience of the immense size of creatures he moves among, and sometimes runs from.
Though Huxley’s TV-announcer voice and lukewarm jokes add little to the show, script writer Warner Brown and director Scott Faris, a Broadway veteran, made the right decision in having Huxley, played by James Roberts, often step back and let the real stars take over.
A few of the mechanics of making the behemoths move are visible during the show, specifically the bases of the larger dinosaurs and the legs of the performers in the smaller ones, but the concessions were necessary to accurately portray the hugeness of these amazing reptiles. The wiring on Ornithocheirus, a type of flying dinosaur, jars the eye during the performance, but the rest is easily ignored in the towering spectacles of the building-sized sauropod Brachiosaurus or the ever-popular carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex. Similarly, the battles between the dinosaurs are somewhat less than titanic, as the dinosaurs can’t actually strike or kill each other and move slightly too slowly.
Walking with Dinosaurs features 15 dinosaurs from 10 species and, among celebrity dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex, highlights less well-known species such as the horned Torosaurus and small, quick predators Allosaurus and Liliensternus.
The visual effects alone are worth the show, and not just the complicated, near-flawless hydraulics and puppetry of the prehistoric stars. The superb lighting effects are lovely and dramatic by turns as they convey fire, rain and the growth of new vegetation as the eons go by. The striking imagery of grass, trees and flowers rising along the sides of the stage convey setting and the passage of time with almost no set pieces.
Surprisingly, the many children in attendance refrained from shrieking in either excitement or genuine fear for most of the production, making for pleasant viewing, even for the big kids. Of course, the mix will probably be different at each performance.
The show runs through Sunday at the Toyota Center, and is well worth the time for anyone who’s ever dug for fossils in a sandbox, learned to spell paleontologist or wanted to meet a real, live dinosaur.
For more information, visit www.dinosaurlive.com.
Verdict: You’ll wish they were still around