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Stage review: 'MythBusters: Behind the Myths' at Nokia Theatre

January 16, 2012 |  4:18 pm

MythBusters
No, they don’t shoot a cannon onstage. 

But the cannonball that went astray during the filming of an episode of the Discovery Channel series “MythBusters” in December, damaging two Bay Area houses and a van, was a palpable presence during Sunday’s performance of the “Mythbusters: Behind the Myths” live stage show at Nokia Theatre.

“It’s not something that should be laughed about,” said Jamie Hyneman, when an audience question about the incident sent a ripple of knowing chuckles through the packed house. Both Hyneman and his partner in boyish high jinks (a.k.a., “blowing crap up”), Adam Savage, emphasized that they take safety seriously and that nothing like that will ever happen again.

Which, let’s face it, takes some of the fun out. One of the pleasures of “MythBusters,” in which special effects artists Hyneman and Savage test widely held beliefs (Does the color red really make bulls angry?) through ingenious, usually risky backyard experiments, is the hope that things will go a little wrong and that one of them (most often Savage) will sustain a minor injury. “MythBusters” onstage would have to be less explosive than “MythBusters” on TV (insurance and all that), but it’s hard not to suspect that that wayward cannonball dented the mojo of the 31-city tour, which kicked off Jan. 6. (Next stop, Wednesday in Riverside.) 

The TV show, now in its ninth season, has accomplished what no human being in history (well, maybe Benjamin Franklin) ever has: making nerds cool. Both hosts are endearing and charismatic in counterintuitive ways. Savage is chatty, bubbling with enthusiasm about the joy of science and always willing to take a bet. The stolid, beret-sporting Hyneman is deadpan behind his extravagant mustache, with a sly twinkle that, whenever anything blows up, breaks into a fiendish grin.

But the stage show is still finding its feet. At Nokia, no myths were actually busted; the climactic explosion was obviously phony. The loose, improvised pace seemed too low-impact for the enormous venue. Audience members were brought up (mostly “men who work out” or “fathers and sons” — what about all the girl nerds?) but what they got to do wasn’t always that cool.

In the biggest crowd-pleaser, the guys used a high-speed camera to film volunteers wagging their heads or blowing raspberries (“Really let your face slide around on your skull,” Savage urged them), then played back the mesmerizing footage of cascading cheek flesh and rippling, flapping lips. (This bit could have gone on longer. The house was a blizzard of forlornly waved white consent waiver forms.)

Two audience Q&A sessions, in which first Hyneman and then Savage strained to hear shouted questions, might have worked better if the questions had been miked and people sitting further back could have participated. But in the absence of really mind-blowing action, as my 10-year-old daughter (a huge fan) put it, it was a little like going to see your favorite band talk about how fun it is to play music. Never mind, they'll figure it out. Penn and Teller had a first tour once too. 

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The 'MythBusters' guys talk about their stage show

More theater reviews from the Los Angeles Times

--Margaret Gray

“MythBusters: Behind the Myths,” Fox Performing Arts Center, Riverside. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18. $35-$75. Box office: (951) 779-9800. Running time:  2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Adam Savage, center, oversees a game of tug-of-war with Jamie Hyneman and an audience volunteer at the Nokia Theatre. Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times

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