“Video games live” used to mean a lot more than just listening to a symphony play music.
“Super Mario at the Ice Capades”
Nintendo – and Mario specifically – had the world in the palm of its hand in 1989. So it’s unclear why they would’ve even bothered going through the trouble of creating a live action, ice-based recreation of the Super Mario Bros. games – and air it on one of the major networks in prime-time, no less. But that’s exactly what happened on December 7th of that year, as “Super Mario Bros. at the Ice Capades” was broadcast on ABC to a Mario-loving nation.
The show begins with hot young TV stars Jason Bateman and Alyssa Milano engaged in some banal chitchat when Bateman happens to notice a nearby television playing – seemingly on its own – Super Mario Bros., which delights him greatly. He then explains the plot of the game to a clueless and incredulous Milano, when all of a suddenly the screen goes all screwy. Suspecting a computer virus (?) is at work, Milano becomes quite concerned at the thought of all of the evil contained in computer viruses being unleashed on the world. Cut to a shot of Christopher Hewett, better known as the titular character of Mr. Belvedere, dressed as some strange approximation of King Koopa. Interestingly, Milano addresses this head-on, stating “That looks like Mr. Belvedere!”
After King Koopa introduces himself, his army, and his evil intentions, we meet the fully-costumed Princess Toadstool, who talks and gestures like a flirty 1930’s Hollywood starlet primed to tell Bowser to “Come up and see my some time” any moment (she doesn’t, unfortunately). What ensues, well…it’s better if you just watch it yourself. If you’ve never seen it, you really are in for a treat. If you have, we both know you’re going to watch it again. Either way, enjoy this truly bizarre footnote in Mario history.
As a side note, the Ice Capades itself would call it quits just six years later after 50+ years in existence. How big of a nail this was in its coffin is unknown, but I’m sure it didn’t help any.
“Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour”
The Power Rangers did it, the Ninja Turtles did it (as a rock concert for some reason), and in 1995, the Mortal Kombatants did it – embarked on a live stage tour. Debuting in 1995 at Radio City Music Hall, “Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour” expanded to an additional 200 cities in the U.S. and Europe the following year.
MK3 was the most recent game installment, so the the show drew from that game’s roster and the characters’ appearance from said game. Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya, Raiden, Kano, Jax, Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, Kabal, Nightwolf, Sindel, Shang Tsung, and Shao Khan all came to life on the stage – a cast which conveniently contained only humanoid characters as the robots or members of the four-armed Shokan would’ve been too complicated to bother with. Although one of the defining characteristics of the original MK trilogy was its use of real actors/martial artists to portray the games’ fighters, the cast of the show featured nobody who actually performed in any of the games, save for one: Kerri Hoskins, reprising the role of Sonya that she took over beginning with MK3. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who played Shang Tsung to over-the-top perfection in the original Mortal Kombat movie, served as the show’s fight coordinator but sadly not as a performer.
The “plot” of the show loosely followed that of the game – the Earth Realm fighters vs the Outworld fighters – all of which was just a weak thread to base a bunch of choreographed kicking, punching, and flipping to the beat of that trademark techno music. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t anything to replicate any of the magical elements of the games, meaning Sub-Zero didn’t throw ice and Liu Kang didn’t transform into a dragon. The few attempts that were made in this regard were embarrassing anyway – when Scorpion threw his spear at an adversary, they would catch it, wrap it around their own body, and limp towards to him.
The audience weren’t merely passive observers to all of this thrilling action. Not only were crowds encouraged to yell commands such as “Finish Him!”, but plastic amulets were supposed to be held up at specific points in the show to help the good guys win. Too bad the amulets weren’t actually available for purchase at the shows like they were supposed to be (it’s unclear if this was a manufacturing snafu or simply a gross oversight by the show’s organizers). Oops. Also, I’m sure that Midway – who had spent years arguing that Mortal Kombat isn’t for kids and they don’t market it as such – just loved the many ways this show made a liar out of them by being created specifically for kids and families. Double oops.
Frustratingly, no actual video footage of this show seems to exist (and few images do either), and if anyone has some, they haven’t put it up online. All that’s ever been found is the video below of an appearance by some of the cast on a Los Angeles morning news show, but it at least gives a little taste of both the acting and fighting ability of the performers. “Shang Tsung” first tries to conduct the interview in character, which the reporter has no designs on playing along with and begins asking him about the game. Shang Tsung gives up and breaks character immediately, making 4th-wall-crashing references to the games and movie, and then awkwardly tries to explain how the violence in the show has a positive message for kids (which he fails at miserably). The reporter then turns into a complete sleazeball when Kerri Hoskins is called upon to give him a quick martial arts lesson. Stay classy, L.A.