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Dinosaurs walk among us

A show that everyone who has ever loved dinosaurs should see, and no child should miss

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There is something about dinosaurs that makes people turn their heads and stare. It could be their massive teeth and their scale-covered skin. Or it could be their bubbly personalities and live-and-let-live lifestyle. Dinosaurs always draw a crowd.

A gathering of more than a dozen of the prehistoric loafers will be hanging around the Tacoma Dome next weekend. Estimated crowds could top 50,000 viewers during the run of “Walking with the Dinosaurs: The Live Experience.”

The animatronic show came from the mind of Bruce Mactaggart, who spun the idea from the massively popular BBC documentary of the same name. It took six years and many million dollars in robotic development to bring the action from the screen to the stage. But it has been done.

‘When they are on stage, you will think they are real,” show general manager Dave Thomas said during a rehearsal at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center before the show headed to a dress rehearsal at the Tacoma Dome. “They are magnificent. Everything was built to exacting standards — down to the absolutely smallest detail. That’s why it took six years to develop the show. We wanted it to be perfect. This is a look at 160 million years of the Earth’s history.”

He points out that the 90-minute show requires more than 60 people and 27 tractor trailers to shuttle from city to city, three more trucks than it takes to move the massive equipment required for a Rolling Stones concert.

The Tacoma show is the North American premiere. It will hit some 30 cities by year’s end.

“This show will likely be playing in North America for many years to come,” Thomas said.

Don’t think of these full-scale robots and create visions of some cheesy show of jerky dinosaurs swaying in the sky and lumbering around the stage like a dime-store circus act. The 15 dinosaurs seem real, courtesy not only of painstaking research into how the massive creatures walked and attacked, but through the creative works of an army of puppeteers, actors, technicians and stage managers who control them.

“It’s a like a ballet of movement,” Thomas said. “They all work in concert with each other.”

The big 10 dinosaurs of the show zoom around the stage on the backs of what looks like little single-seat dragster cars, while puppeteers control the legs, arms, heads, eyes and even the “breathing” of the creatures.

The five smaller dinosaurs — including raptors and a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex — come to life through a person climbing inside a massive suit that weighs in at about 80 pounds.

“They really have to be professional athletes to do that,” Head of Puppetry Mathew McCoy said, noting that the actors controlling the smaller dinosaurs have to jump and run around for a half-hour or so with what is essentially two bags of concrete strapped to their shoulders.

The puppeteers and actors have full reign over the creatures, so although there is a story they follow and the show is staged so everyone knows where all the other dinosaurs will be moving around on the performance space, they do add and subtract little things here and there in response to the audience and particular staging changes.

“It is not a pre-program(ed) show that goes on regardless of what is happening,” Thomas said. It is a live performance. It is not always going to be the same.”

The show itself has a paleontologist setting the stage for the walk back into prehistoric times, and then out come dinosaurs as they begin to develop and evolve out of the ooze created when the Earth cooled to the point of sustaining life. Then comes the constant battle for food and territory as well as the protection of young dinosaurs.

[Tacoma Dome, 7:30 p.m. July 11-12, 1 and 7:30 p.m. July 13, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. July 14, 1 p.m. July 15, $24.50-$79.50, 2525 E. D St., Tacoma,]

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