Maybe you haven't heard, but the Mesozoic Era has returned to North America.

Dinosaurs, which became extinct about 65 million years ago, again are walking the land — or, at least, through arenas across the continent.

"Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience" is a 96-minute family-oriented theatrical production that takes viewers on an expedition through the evolution and demise of the prehistoric beasts.

Based on the popular BBC television series "Walking With Dinosaurs," the live show will be at the North Charleston Coliseum for eight performances April 9-13 in what is being billed as "the biggest show in coliseum history."

The BBC series, later shown on the Discovery Channel, was seen by 700 million people and won six Emmy and three British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards. Tim Haines, creator and producer of that series, is a project consultant for the live show.

"The BBC series was a brilliant blend of special effects, escapism, excitement and information," says show creator Bruce Mactaggart, executive director of Immersion Edutainment. "Our show has that, and it's live."

Paleontologist Huxley (played by actors James Roberts and Jonathan Bliss) narrates the story, describing the dinosaurs and events as accurately as current science allows while the 15 life-size, lifelike creatures interact with each other.

The story covers nearly 200 million years of history in two acts with an intermission, using both live and recorded video. It includes explanations of how the carnivores came to walk on two legs and how the plant-eaters fended off foes. During the step back in time, viewers watch as oceans form, volcanoes erupt and a comet crashes into the Earth.

The show includes 10 species representing the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, all built to scale, such as tyrannosaurus rex, plateosaurus, liliensternus, stegosaurus, allosaurus, torosaurus and utahraptor. The largest, brachiosaurus, is 36 feet tall and 56 feet from nose to tail.

"We take the audience on a journey back in time and show how the dinosaurs might have actually looked in their prime — huge, sometimes frightening, sometimes comical monsters that fought for survival every day of their lives," says director Scott Faris. "Our dinosaurs move exactly like they are real, with all the roars, snorts and excitement that go with it. The realism is mind-blowing."

A team of 50 engineers, fabricators, skinmakers, artists, painters and animatronic experts spent a year building the $20 million production.

The 65-member touring company includes performers, puppeteers, dinosaur drivers, engineers and a production crew for sound, rigging, automation and carpentry.

The dinosaurs are operated by puppeteers using technology that makes them look real, right down to their head and eye movements. Hidden drivers maneuver the larger dinos around the arena, while puppeteers operate some of the smaller ones.

"It is the closest you'll ever get to experiencing what it was like when they walked and ruled the Earth," Mactaggart says.

Originally scheduled locally for a seven-show run, an eighth show was added at 5 p.m. April 13 because organizers expect ticket sales to pick up when it opens and word gets out.

"None of the shows are sold out yet," coliseum marketing manager Alan Coker said last week. "There are still tickets available, but we anticipated the demand and added a show."

The production is so large that only 3,500 of the coliseum's 13,000 seats will be used for each show. The performance area is the entire arena floor.

This is a case where being in the front row is not necessarily an advantage, organizers say.

"Audiences seated in the lower seats are all but overwhelmed by the dinosaurs, while those seated in higher seats can view the entire spectacle and panorama of the production," says Mactaggart.

Because the show aims to be realistic, it can be loud at times.

"Anything loud would be concerning if you're a parent of a small child," says Coker. "It's not a violent show, but there are big, giant dinosaurs that are very, very loud at times."

Show writer Warner Brown was careful to keep it educational and family-friendly while avoiding blood and gore.

The show played to sold-out crowds in five cities over 10 weeks in Australia early last year before coming to the United States in July for a two-year run that will include nearly 100 venues in the United States, Canada and Mexico. More than a million Americans have seen the show since it arrived.

See video of the production

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