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Toben Shelby
Walking With Dinosaurs
Walking With Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs have taken over the Sullivan Arena. For the next few days, stegosauruses, allosauruses, torosaurus (an adult triceratops) and Tyrannosaurus rex are taking center stage as part of "Walking With Dinosaurs: the Arena Spectacular."

The giant-sized puppet show is like a theatrical production, but with more than a dozen life-size dinosaur creations (most of which weigh 1.6 tons and require three people to operate) arenas are a much more fitting location for the event.

The production was adapted from the 1999 BBC television miniseries "Walking With Dinosaurs," and tours began a few years ago. Worldwide the live show has brought in more than 4.4 million audience members. The U.S. tour recently played in New York City, Chicago and Duluth, Minn. Moving from city to city is no easy task. It takes two dozen semi-trucks to transport the hydraulic behemoths and show-related equipment to the next venue. As with any theatrical show, it takes time to acclimate to the new stage, figure out blocking, rehearse and deal with any other logistical issues.

Resident director Lynda Lavin makes sure the show doesn't have any show-stopping stumbles.

"Arenas, just like theaters, come in different sizes and shapes, and we've run into a few instances where the brachiosaurus was bumping into the lights because we didn't have enough height," Lavin said in a phone interview. "I had to come in and do some re-blocking; these are very, very expensive puppets, so we don't take the chance of damaging one."

Lavin has a 30-year background in traditional theater work, but switched from touring as a production stage manager with Broadway musicals to "Walking With Dinosaurs."

"It's been a very challenging transition for me because I didn't have any background in puppetry," Lavin said. "I was learning kind of on my feet a fascinating kind of art form and the talent behind it. I have so much respect for it now that I see what these people do."

Forty nine of the 72 people involved in the production are crew members like engineers, computer specialists, puppeteers, electricians, dressers for the puppets and carpenters. They work to weave together history and science with the theatrical elements.

"It may very well be the closest you'll ever be to seeing the real thing," Lavin said. "The art design of the dinosaurs, from how they're covered with the skins..., the noises they make, the movements such as the eyes blink and the mouths move, the heads and necks, the tails, everything -- we can make it look like they're breathing, and that's the skill of the puppetry."

Much like the television series that spawned the show, there's a definite "Jurassic Park" vibe to the dinosaurs (minus the terrifying violence). They move about and sound like what one can only imagine a real dinosaur might.

The show runs for about an hour and a half, with two acts split by an intermission. The aim is to maintain the attention of the many children usually in attendance, but Lavin said it has something for everyone.

"I think adults come thinking it's a kids show and are very impressed when they leave with just how well done it is."

By Toben Shelby
Daily News correspondent