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Marvel unleashes superheroes for stunt-filled live shows

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Marvel in its latest superhero caper will expand its comic empire to live U.S. audiences this summer, with a tour packing Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man and two dozen characters into a family-oriented show filled with fight scenes and explosions.

"Marvel Universe LIVE!" debuts in Tampa on July 10 and will hit 85 cities including New York in August, marking the character licensing company's most ambitious move into live entertainment.

Marvel seeks to emulate the success of its parent company, Walt Disney Co, in translating popular film and television into a lifestyle brand with wide consumer reach.

"This is legacy building," said Tom Marvelli, Marvel's vice president of global creative services and live events, who expects the show to appeal to both adult fans and their children. "For the first time, they are going to get to see the characters right in front of them, fighting it out and conquering evil."

The show features more than 25 characters -- from Wolverine and the Avengers' Captain America and Hulk to rivals Loki, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus -- in a duel for control of the Cosmic Cube, a coveted and feared power source in the Marvel realm.

The plot fuels an almost non-stop sequence of action scenes, orchestrated by the stunts coordinator for "The Amazing Spider-Man" movies. Among the highlights are a car that flips, racing motorcycles, and a bad guy who goes up in flames.

The production features a stage that doubles as a massive projection screen, transporting audiences from Manhattan's skyscrapers to the far-flung desert while heroes and villains fight battle after battle.

The action takes place as much in the air as on the ground, with costumes designed to move according to characters' powers, producer Juliette Feld said. Spider-Man swings on a pendulum, while Iron Man has a jet-propulsion effect.

The tour is expected to go on to Canada and the UK, although no dates are set.

The concept was pitched by Feld Entertainment, a family-owned company that puts on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, building on its three-decade relationship with Disney.

Feld produces the popular "Disney on Ice" and "Disney Live!" tours and has featured Marvel-themed cars at its Monster Jam events.

"We saw the success of the films. The characters are so endearing, so relatable and so well loved," said Feld, executive vice president of the Florida-based company. "We really wanted to bring them to life and expand our portfolio."

She declined to discuss the cost of the production, which has been two years in the making. Marvel will share in the revenues generated, said Marvel executives, declining to provide additional detail.

The show, while suitable for most ages, especially targets 5- to 12-year-old boys.

Producers hope to lure audiences into the action with a new Marvel collectible, the Lectro Link. The interactive wristband, on sale at performances for $25, provides a remote power source for the Iron Man suit.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Adler)

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