Marvel Universe LIVE! superheroes and villains invade South Florida this weekend

You’ve read and collected Marvel comics for years, and enjoyed watching your favorite superheroes – including Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Avengers – battling evil on the big screen.

But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Imagine seeing the Marvel team all together, saving the universe in typically spectacular fashion – performing live, up close and in person.

Marvel Universe LIVE! storms into South Florida – from Thursday through Sunday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, and then Nov. 28-30 at downtown Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena – bringing with it an all-new, original story, and featuring more than two dozen Marvel icons joining together for one epic quest.

The massive show is the vision of Feld Entertainment, the live-show production giant that also brings Disney On Ice!, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and Monster Jam, among many others. Marvel Universe LIVE! is easily its most ambitious project yet.

“It is the largest production that Feld Entertainment has ever undertaken,” said CEO Kenneth Feld, who took over the company reins after his father died in 1984. “It’s the only place in the world where somebody can come and see 25 Marvel heroes and supervillains in one place. It’s a huge cast, and the stunts that are done live are stunts that you would think of only in a movie, and here we’re doing it six, eight, 10 times a week, and repeating it.”

Marvel fanatics will drool over the story line, which is simple yet allows for countless twists, turns and suspenseful moments. The Mighty Thor has shattered into pieces the Cosmic Cube, the source of ultimate power in the Marvel Universe, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands – namely, his villainous brother, Loki. After Loki devises a scheme to clone its powers, the superheroes must band together to save the Universe.

All of this is done with a spectacular, complex and explosive mix of sound, lights, lasers, 3D projection, special effects and live pyrotechnics.

“It was an extraordinary process,” said Feld. “The workshop and rehearsal process was six months. Typically, our biggest shows take about five weeks of rehearsals. So there were days when you didn’t know whether it would all work.”

To pull it off, much of the cast had to consist of highly trained stunt people.

“The performers are just extraordinary athletes and motorcycle riders, and they’re doing things that are really unheard of,” Feld says. “We have people who actually designed the stunts for a lot of the Marvel films – for Spider-Man, the Avenger films, Thor – that worked on this project. It’s like doing a movie, live, eight times a week.”

One such performer is Benjamin Aycrigg, 23, from Tampa, who plays the role of Cyclops, the leader of The X-Men (“He shoots optic beams out of his eyes. It’s pretty awesome,” he says.).

Aycrigg, who performed with Disney in Orlando for several years before auditioning for the Marvel show, says his athletic background helped him prepare for a part like this.

“I played football for Riverview High School in Tampa, and a year in college in Minnesota,” he says. “It taught me how to take a hit, how to fall properly, and how to be a team player, and those are all valuable skills to have in the world of stunts.”

Aycrigg was an outside linebacker whose playing weight was about 230 pounds, but he’s since trimmed down to 195.

“I’ve lost a lot of weight,” he says. “The heavier you are in stunts, the harder it is when you hit the ground [laughs]. It’s not too much fun.”

Many of the stunts are so jaw-dropping that they might seem impossible to the average person.

“What we’ve accomplished here really hasn’t been done in live entertainment before,” says Feld. “It’s breathtaking, because no one knows what to expect. Captain America goes riding a motorcycle on the floor and does a 19-foot-high jump every show. And there’s a motorcycle chase where he’s chasing Red Skull up a 22-foot spiral, and then it looks like there’s no way out, and then Red Skull jumps down six feet, and then another six feet, and then another nine feet to get to the ground. And this is on motorcycles, and you think, “How can this even happen?” It’s truly amazing what these people can do.”

Aycrigg shrugs off the danger, as you might expect a stuntman to do.

“We’re so well-trained – Feld made sure of that, and made sure a lot of safety precautions were taken – that the stunts themselves are incredibly dangerous, but it’s second-nature now,” he says. “So I go into every show with caution – I have to think through everything, and can’t just lackadaisically do it. And I have yet to have an injury, so I’d say it’s pretty safe.”

For Feld, the Marvel experience has opened up a whole new world.

“This show was over two years in the planning – it opened in July and it was the spring of ’12 when we started working on it,” he says. “And to see it come to fruition is great, but what was wonderful for me was the education I got from all the people at Marvel along the way about what the characters are able to do, who they mingle with, and really understanding the depth of these characters in a way that I never really knew before. So I’m a true fan.”