Niagara Gazette — Anyone who's ever longed to see fire-breathing dragons soaring down upon them is in luck.
The First Niagara Center will host the “How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular” Sept. 20-23. The show features 23 dragons in all - some as large as a blue whale, with a wing span of 46 feet - and is based on the 2010 DreamWorks animated film about a Viking boy who wants more out of dragons than to war with them.
The movie spurred enough of an audience - $217.5 million box office domestic, $277.3 million international - to warrant the live show.
Puppeteer Amanda Maddock, who worked to create the show over the course of 12 months, said piggy-backing off such a beloved film gives the arena show crew a leg up.
“It works to our advantage. A lot of people coming to the show already know the characters,” she said. “Our challenge was, ‘It was a great story, so what else can we do with it?’ You can’t just play the movie on the big screen, so you have to adapt it and make it your own.”
The show, like the movie, follows teenage viking Hiccup, who’s encouraged by townsmen to join them in fighting the dragons despite his more artistic inclination. He comes across a dangerous night fury dragon that he names Toothless, but rather than kill it he learns how to ride it and interact with it. He’s eventually forced into a tough decision about what species he’d rather defend.
Maddock controls the Toothless puppet in the show, but there are no strings involved. She mans the puppet from atop the arena, using remote controls to make it fly, dive and breathe fire.
“People wonder how we’re going to do it. What are the puppets going to look like?” she said. “We focused on creating an immersive experience, make it feel like dragon attack is going on overhead.”
Piloting the puppet of such a popular character adds another dimension to Maddock’s work, she said.
“You have to think of your character as the protagonist no matter whether they’re the hero or villain - get in mind of wild animal. Everybody sees their own pet in Toothless,” she said.
"I feel that too, what would my dog do?"
Some of the puppets are traditional hand puppets. An additional 21 actors are on the ground along with a supporting crew of 85 people make the show take flight. The show features an original score.
Maddock has been a professional puppeteer or12 years, having previously worked on the “Walking with Dinosaurs” arena show that came to Buffalo in June 2009. Piloting a giant mechanical mythical creature from the rafters ha its challenges, but she enjoys overcoming them.
“Once you’re a team and you’ve been rehearsing long enough, it kind of becomes instinctual,” she said. “Giving inanimate objects life - that just continues to fascinate me.”
The arena show debuted in March in Australia and began touring the United States in June. The tour is booked through February, but Maddock said producers are working to keep it on the road indefinitely.
Judging by audience reaction so far, she said there’s little doubt anyone who sees the show will have a red hot time.
“If you like good storytelling, it’s kind of a timeless story, two worlds misunderstanding each other,” she said. “This is what we imagined we wanted to do with this show.”
IF YOU GO * WHAT: "How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular" * WHEN: 7 p.m. Sept. 20-21; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Sept. 22; and 11 a.m. Sept. 23 * WHERE: First Niagara Center, Buffalo * MORE INFO: Call (888) 223-6000 or visit firstniagaracenter.com