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There be dragons! Fire-breathing creatures co-star with cutting-edge special effects at Consol Energy Center |
Theater & Arts

There be dragons! Fire-breathing creatures co-star with cutting-edge special effects at Consol Energy Center

Michael DiVittorio
| Wednesday, August 15, 2012 8:55 p.m
Hiccup (Riley Miner) and Astrid (Gemma Nguyen) first flight in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Todd Kaplan
Hiccup (Rarmian Newton) touches Toothless in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live.' Credit: Lisa Tomasetti
How to Train Your Dragon Live
The Nadder and Viking from 'How to Train Your Dragon Live'
How to Train Your Dragon Live
Making of the dragon Gronckle for 'How to Train Your Dragon Live.' Credit: How to Train Your Dragon Live
Astrid (Gemma Nguyen) and Toothless in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Todd Kaplan
Astrid (Sarah McCreanor) flying. Credit: Lisa Tomasetti
Monstrous Nightmare in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Jeff Busby
Nightmare and viking in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Jeff Busby
Nightmare attack during dragon Olympiad in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Todd Kaplan
Red Death attack in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Todd Kaplan
Vikings train the Deadly Nadder in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Todd Kaplan
Fishlegs (Dexter Mayfield) rides Gronkle in 'How to Train Your Dragon Live' Credit: Todd Kaplan
The dragon called Baby Nadder breathes smoke during the preview for the Dreamworks 'How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,' at Consol Energy Center, Thursday, July 26, 2012. The show will run August 22 through August 26. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Caden Suba, 8 of Franklin Park shakes hands with Sig the Viking in a preview forthe Dreamworks 'How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,' at Consol Energy Center, Thursday, July 26, 2012. The show will run August 22 through August 26. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Cole Suba, 6 (left) and Caden Suba, 8 (middle) both of Franklin Park, try to pet the dragon called Baby Nadder during a preview for the Dreamworks 'How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,' at Consol Energy Center, Thursday, July 26, 2012. The show will run August 22 through August 26. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The dragon called Baby Nadder chases Sig the Viking in a preview for the Dreamworks 'How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,' at Consol Energy Center, Thursday, July 26, 2012. The show will run August 22 through August 26. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Shield and sword-bearing Vikings tussle, tumble and breakdance while attempting to ward off the attack of flame-breathing dragons, who threaten to burn their village.

Hiccup, a teen-aged Viking misfit, finds his calling through a swiftly moving succession of stunningly beautiful locations.

The curved 20,000-square-foot set’s walls and sliding panels serve as a projection surface and provide entrances and windows into Hiccup’s adventures up steep mountains, across streams and molten lava fields, over the clouds and under the sea.

”Dreamworks How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular” unfolds its age-old saga in a live show packed with state-of-the-art effects — cinematic projections, laser lights, mist, fire and animation, as well as more old-fashioned methods, such as costuming, props, wig and shadow puppets.

The show is based on Scottish writer Cressida Cowell’s original book and Dreamworks Animations’ 2010 animated film.

RZO Dragon Productions has taken the imaginative story to the next level in an arena partnership between Dreamworks Animation and Global Creatures, which brought pre-historic beasts to life in the arena show “Walking with Dinosaurs.”

An encounter with lifelike, gigantic, sharp-toothed dinosaurs may be too intense for younger children, even in an arena the size of the Consol Energy Center.

But some of the fear factor is diffused by an abundance of humorous moments as the always-in-trouble Hiccup stumbles through encounters with girls, mishaps at Viking school and early efforts to control dragons.

Most of the dragons have split personalities, says Gavin Sainsbury, the show’s head of puppetry, who leads the team of puppeteers who animate many of the dragons remotely from consoles high above the arena floor. “One minute, they’re wanting to blast Vikings to smithereens. But, if treated rightly, they can blow smoke rings or shoot confetti out of their backsides.”

With a show filled with impressive, dramatic effects, there was a danger of diminishing the relationship story of a boy and his father, as well a the relationship that grows between a boy and a dragon and alters the whole village’s point of view.

But both Dreamworks Animation and Nigel Jamieson, who adapted and directed the story for live stage performance, were emphatic that those stories were the core of the show.

“Every moment, we’re out there trying to maintain the arc and the truth of the story,” says Robert Morgan, who plays Hiccup’s father, Stoick.

“The essence of the show is a theater piece. We have to get the story across — the conflict between father and son. We are absolutely on the line to make that clear to the audience,” he says “The feedback we get is that it’s a great story — as good as the film.”

The story

Set in the year 333 on the dragon-infested island of Berk, where it snows nine months of the year and hails the other three, a young misfit named Hiccup tries to find his calling.

His dad, Stoick, the leader of the island’s Viking residents, is preoccupied by trying to get rid of the dragons that plague their island and has little patience for his son’s hapless behavior and un-Viking-like interests.

Part thrilling adventure, part coming-of-age tale, “How to Train Your Dragon” follows Hiccup, as his discovery of a dangerous Night Fury dragon changes his life and those of his fellow villagers.

The Dragons

During the show, 12 different species of dragons menace the citizens of Berk. These fearsome beasts appear in a variety of shapes, sizes and degrees of ferocity. Among them are:

Night Fury: The rarest and most intelligent of dragons, small in size with a large wingspan. Flies higher, faster and longer than any other dragon, known for its dive-bombing attacks.

Nadder: Beautiful but deadly and aggressive with a quick and explosive temper, the Nadder has the hottest dragon fire and can raise and shoot the spines on its tail with deadly accuracy.

Cronkle: Its chunky body and tiny wings resemble a bumblebee, but the Cronkle can fly backwards and sideways, is capable of crushing enemies with its expendable tail or using its head as a battering ram. Eats boulders. Shoots flaming chunks of lava from its mouth

Nightmare: Attacks by covering its body in flames, emits kerosene gel fire, may unexpectedly spit fire when coughing of sneezing.

– – – –

The Numbers

1.6 tons: Weight of the largest dragons

21: Actors in the production

23: Fire-breathing dragons

30: Tractor trailers needed to haul show

46 feet: Largest wingspan on a dragon

50: Model makers, digital designers, scenic artists, skins fabricators and others who created the show

71: Crew and management employees who travel with show

95 feet: Nose-to-tail length of Red Death dragon

100: Additional local crew needed for load-in

430: Cubic feet of foam stuffed inside each large dragon

7,000 feet: Amount of bungee cord used for hanging dragons

20,000 square feet: Dimensions of set design

– – – –

Other media

Books: “How to Train Your Dragon” began as the first of a planned 10 volumes written by Cressida Cowell that chronicle “The Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.” That first volume, published in 2003 was followed by Hiccup’s further adventures that include “How to Be a Pirate,” (2004), “How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse” (2006) and “How to Break a Dragon’s Heart.” The ninth and most recent book in the saga is “How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword” (2011). “How to Steal a Dragon’s Jewel” is scheduled for release in October and Cowell plans to extend the series with an 11th book. The series has now been published in more than 30 languages.

Movies: After its 2010 debut, “How to Train Your Dragon” received Oscar nominations for best animated feature film and best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score. Available in DVD and Blu-ray 3-D. A sequel, “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” is scheduled for release in June 2014.

Video game: Players can explore the island of Berk, customize their own dragon, level up their abilities through training exercises. After training their dragons, players are ready to engage in battles in a variety of environments.

Television: Dreamworks’ “Dragon Riders of Berk” debuts at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 on Cartoon Network. Turns out, there are lots more dragons out there than the residents of Berk suspected. Hiccup, Astrid and their young Viking friends engage in new adventures, while figuring out how to train them.

Amusement park attraction: In July, plans were announced to create an indoor theme park at American Dream at Meadowlands in New Jersey built around characters from “How to Train Your Dragon,” as well as “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar.”

– – – –

The local connection

When two of the dragons breath laser fire in “Dreamworks How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,” it’s up to Zane Shapiro to make sure they’re shooting straight.

Shapiro, 26, and a native of Upper St. Clair, is the laser technician for the touring production of “How To Train Your Dragon” that begins performances at the Consol Energy Center on Aug. 23.

He’s responsible for aligning and positioning the laser equipment and light beams that create illusions of water, fire and other effects in the mammoth production.

In “How To Train Your Dragon,” two of the show’s dragons breathe fire from laser equipment hidden inside their mouths. Other effects beam from two laser machines placed above the stage floor and move up and down.

“My responsibility is to rig the lasers and make sure they are all aligned and projected where they need to go and go safely,” Shapiro says.

After graduating from Ohio University with a BS in telecommunications. he gained experience with lasers while working at Lightwave International in Bridgeville, a production company that specializes in creating laser-light shows and special effects for stage shows, movies and special events, such as tours for performers that include Madonna, Rihanna, Kayne West and Jay-Z.

“But this show is different,” Shapiro says

Because every venue varies, Shapiro must take extra care to make sure the light beams are where they are supposed to be. “The angle of the laser changes from venue to venue. You have to align (them) for each show.

“Lasers are not to be taken lightly…They are powerful. It’s like looking into the sun. You don’t want them going into the audience,” Shapiro says.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter .

Categories: Theater Arts
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