Note: We were invited by Feld Entertainment to preview Jurassic World Live Tour ahead of the debut in Columbus, Ohio.
As a Jurassic fan, it’s not often that we get to discuss new canonical material, but now that Jurassic World Live Tour has been seen before fans, we can now add it to the list. Canon is the key here. So much of the excitement surrounding this show for the superfans is the amount of world building potential, the characters added to the universe and the implications for the future of the franchise. We can safely say that this show excels on so many fronts and is a welcome addition to the Jurassic universe (five films, plus The Evolution of Claire novel). The directors of this show, Dan Shipton and Ross Nicholson, whom we’ve spoken with extensively, have done the work necessary to make this a show for a wide audience, but also, a show the superfans can appreciate.
Jurassic World Live Tour sinks its claws with the introduction of the main characters - Dr. Kate Walker and the Troodon (dinosaur), Jeanie. The Jurassic franchise, especially of late with the Jurassic World series of films, excels by balancing human and dinosaur character elements. Jurassic World Live Tour borrows that formula by introducing us to the rough and tumble scientist, Dr. Kate Walker, the Jurassic World employee devoted to studying the emotional state of dinosaurs. Dr. Kate and her team work with Jeanie due to her intellectual capacity, something the Velociraptors have embodied since day one of this franchise. Troodons are considered to be one of the smartest dinosaurs, so that makes Jeanie the perfect candidate for the program Dr. Kate enacts to study intellect and emotional states in the dinosaurs. Following Dr. Kate Walker and Jeanie throughout this story can be narrowed down to these three words - caring, emotional and adventurous. These two are the hook you need to be invested in the storyline.
It needs to be screamed from the top row of the arena that this show works as well as it does due to the casting of Madison Embrey as Dr. Kate Walker and of course the performers who maneuver and operate Jeanie. Without the level of believability that these actors bring to their roles, we would never buy that relationship between human and dinosaur. Jessica Ferris, the casting director, and the casting team did wonders connecting these roles to the people who filled the shoes.
Outside of the two leads, there is a wide cast of characters stretching from loyal ACU members, to doting scientists and doe-eyed interns, all of which play integral roles in the show. The supporting cast is wonderful. Yes, some introductions are over the top - I’m looking at you Chad - but that doesn’t demean the performances by any means. This is a live show. You can expect the actors to project and overemphasize their performance in a room where they need to reach each and every audience member. So, while some introductions may seem exaggerated, the characters are endearing. It’s easy to make a connection to each one through comedy, sentimentality and integration into the overall story.
Just like any other Jurassic tale, we have a set of villains in this story that share a few connections with other characters from the franchise. You have the brains behind the science, Dr. Bordoff and you have the heavy, Kurt Reed. Kurt is the mustache twirling evildoer behind the scenes name-dropping characters from past films, setting himself firmly within the cast of characters. Mr. Reed runs the operation that sees a swarm of mercenaries battling with Dr. Kate Walker and company throughout the entirety of the show. Some of the best action comes from moments of despair forced by the villains. A big commendation to the stunt crew on Jurassic World Live Tour, as they brought every aspect necessary to make this show explosive. There is never a dull moment when you have to choose which action to focus your attention on. At any one time, you’ll see fight sequences, dino battles, vehicle stunts and trust me, more. You’ll want to see everything else in store for this ensemble on the area floor.
As mentioned in the opening, Jurassic World Live Tour does wonders for the ravaging Jurassic fanbase out there. Throughout the show, character references, dropped hints and incredible set pieces help to world build the Jurassic franchise. We visit places we never expected and we are able to connect dots we’ve only speculated about in the past. It really is a dream for those who embrace this story and set it alongside the stories we already know and love. At no time did the show feel disconnected from the ongoing story, nor did it have any canon breaking moments. Frank Marshall viewed the show a few days before our screening and ensured the canon is intact. This story works perfectly as a follow up to Jurassic World and certainly takes on some of the more outlandish threads from that film. At times it can feel like a cartoon version of a Jurassic story, but it honestly makes it all the more fun. Yes, the show has moments of heavy handed dialogue, but the performers sell it 100%. Some characters are more cartoony than others, but they’ve certainly earned their characteristics by never sacrificing their role for the sake of a plot point or joke. Despite some feeling more real than others, the writing works well to ground each of these characters together in the same world, working together.
One way to keep this story “Jurassic” is to include the music we’ve come to know and love. Throughout Jurassic World Live Tour, you’ll hear music from up and down the franchise in new and interesting ways. It was extremely fun to hear the scores we’ve been listening to for ages orchestrated in a completely new way. Each element they brought from previous film scores fit the instances they were used and really highlighted the exact action you were seeing on the show floor. Not only were some cues pulled directly from their scores, new cues were created by composer Tim Williams to complete the story. Hopefully we’ll be able to at least hear these cues in full some day, as they were glorious.
How have we gotten this far and barely talked about the dinosaurs? This show has seen a ton of comparison to Walking With Dinosaurs, rightfully so, as both shows present dinosaurs in their full scale. We’ve also seen the obvious comparison to the works of Jurassic World: The Exhibition and Universal Studios Parks & Resorts. Unlike many of those options, Jurassic World Live Tour brings to life the full CG renders of a Jurassic dinosaur to the stage, right before our eyes. This is most prevalent when discussing the massive Tyrannosaurus Rex animatronic. This is no generic Rex. You get to see the exact model of the Rex you know and love from Jurassic Park, Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s a beauty to behold. At times the animatronics can be a bit rigid, but the session we viewed was early on, before debuting to the public. For instance, the opening scene is supposed to give you that sense of awe and wonder, like the films, but instead, you noticed the rigidity of the creature. Later on in the show, that same creature was beautiful, so it’s very dependent on the moment. Despite feeling a little mechanical, at no time did it take away from the excellence of the experience. It’s a feat to get these machines operating in the first place. Again, they notified us the animatronics would be a bit rigid, as the show was working out the kinks.
Besides giant mechanical beasts, human performers are also part of the dinosaur team as Dinoteers. Dinoteers don the dino-suits, complete with mechanical heads, necks, arms and more, bringing to life many of the smaller dinosaurs throughout the show. With these suits, you can see the dinosaur legs and the human actor’s legs roaming around the stage. For some, this is a deal breaker, but the style of suit used here helps the performer excel in bringing that dinosaur to life. Each and every Dinoteer brought these dinosaurs to life in a way that felt real and emotional. After testing out the rigs during the media day, this is no easy task. The dinosaurs are extremely difficult to master and that speaks volumes to the team behind the scenes and the performers hard work. The bond between different dinosaurs and dinosaurs with humans was elegant, intense and thrilling.
Jurassic World Live Tour gives Jurassic fans something valuable to think upon in between films. This is not just some run of the mill stunt show; for the Jurassic franchise, this is expertly crafted to be as important an element as any of the film. It’s exciting to see a company like Feld Entertainment treat the Jurassic franchise with the respect it deserves, and truly give fans of the movie series one of the best stories since the late nineties. NBC Universal should be proud of this partnership with Feld Entertainment, because they have done it right - they’ve made the fans happy.
Final image by Brad Jost, All others by Feld Entertainment.