The smash-hit animated franchise Kung Fu Panda is coming to life for a stage production in Macau starting at the end of this year, production company Broadway Asia announced today. The show, which will be a resident production at The Venetian Macau, is the product of a collaboration between Broadway Asia and Hollywood animation studio DreamWorks, which created the nearly US$2 billion global box office phenomenon. And yes, it will include a performer in a big panda suit. That is according to Tony Award-winning Broadway director and choreographer Susan Stroman, who took on direction of Kung Fu Panda Spectacular Live as her first Asia-based project. “It’s a real cross of musical theatre, cirque and Hollywood, all those worlds coming together … along with the art of kung fu,” says Stroman of the production. With Kung Fu Panda 3, DreamWorks’ Chinese gamble looks like it’s paying off To transform the animated film into an onstage spectacle, Stroman assembled a cast of 51 martial artists, acrobats, dancers, trampoliners, bungee and slackwire artists, and parkour practitioners, hailing from 19 countries. Chinese wushu (a form of martial arts) master Jaden He Jing-de was brought on board to advise on the cast’s daily kung fu training and incorporating the martial art into the show. “[Cast members] not only had to have acrobatic chops – and no fear of flying – but they also had to have the comic chops,” Stroman says, noting the original story (and comedy) of one panda’s quest for self-discovery and kung fu mastery are central to the Mandarin-language stage production. But while the script relies heavily on the plot of the first and third instalments of the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, taking the visually rich, action-packed animation onto stage requires a brand new feat of choreography, set design, and costuming, according to Stroman, whose credits include The Producers and Bullets Over Broadway . “The biggest challenge is getting these characters that have only been in two dimensions to be three-dimensional and able to do these athletic moves, kung fu and acrobatics, with their different character costumes on – how we can still use the hands to [juggle dumplings], or to grab props if you are a mantis,” she says. Apart from being tailored to allow for acrobatics and kung fu, the costumes, designed by Broadway’s William Ivey Long and fabricated in Hong Kong, also involve elements of puppetry by production designer Michael Curry, who worked on Broadway’s The Lion King . The panda suit for protagonist Po will have a full face mask, manipulated for expression, while other characters like Monkey and Tigress will be human faces augmented with make-up. Video and lighting visual effects will play an important role in evoking the different landscapes and scenery that are central to the aesthetics of the animated film. The Broadway Asia production looks to draw on the success of the franchise in China, where Kung Fu Panda became a breakaway hit. This was despite initial calls to boycott the 2008 film debut, due to controversy surrounding DreamWorks executive Steven Spielberg’s decision to resign as a Beijing Olympics artistic adviser and Hollywood’s use of Chinese cultural iconography. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) and Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), which was co-produced by a Shanghai-based studio that was then a DreamWorks Animation joint venture, still rank among the top 10 animations in China box office sales. The stage show draws on DreamWorks’ original research on Chinese cultural elements, from imagery and colour symbolism to food and kung fu. But while the theatrical production preserves the essence of the film, Stoman says it is a work all its own. “I wanted to deliver to [Chinese audiences] something that they had never seen before,” says Stroman, who travelled China in preparation for the show, where she attended a Peking opera, visited kung fu schools in Shaolin, and even made a pilgrimage to the Chengdu Panda Base, where giant pandas are bred. Among some never-before-seen highlights will be the comedic high jinks of Po’s noodle-serving turned into a highly choreographed disaster and the novelty of 40 panda-suited acrobats welcoming him to Panda Village. The production is expected to open in December of this year; ticketing details are yet to be announced.