Michael Cohl is a merry old soul these days.
Cohl earned his most widespread acclaim as producer of six Rolling Stones tours, from 1989's Steel Wheels show through the most recent, the $558 million-grossing (according to Billboard Boxscore) A Bigger Bang tour of 2005-07. Under his current company, S2BN Entertainment, he's also known as producer of the stage extravaganza adapted from the TV kiddie show "Yo Gabba Gabba!," which won the creative content award at the 2010 Billboard Touring Awards. And he's listed as lead producer of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," the most expensive and technologically ambitious Broadway show ever mounted, now churning out $1.5 million a week some 19 months after its debut.
Lest anyone forget, Cohl is a promoter, too.
Not counting a stint running Ottawa's legendary strip club, Pandora's Box, the Canadian impresario, winner of Billboard's inaugural Legend of Live award in 2004, got started in the live entertainment business as a promoter, and he again dons his promoter's hat with the new arena show "How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular," based on DreamWorks' 3-D animated feature film, which grossed nearly $500 million. Producers include DreamWorks and financial services company RZO (whose tour clients include the Stones and the Police reunion), dba as RZO Dragon Productions on this tour. After 45 shows in Australia grossed more than $12 million (U.S.) and drew 168,684, according to Boxscore, the production hits North American arenas in July.
"Dragon" will present approximately eight shows in five days in each domestic market, playing about a year in North America before hitting the rest of the world. "It fits into what we're doing-a type of event that I'm really into these days," Cohl says. "It has Vikings and flying, fire-breathing dragons-everything that the movie had, except it's live. It's shocking how amazing it is. My quote is, 'You will believe that dragons exist.'"
Global Creatures, the entertainment firm behind 2008 creative content award winner "Walking With Dinosaurs," and U2's "king of production managers" Jake Berry are onboard, putting this tour into the "mega" category. The show will deliver some two dozen dragons, with wingspans of up to 46 feet, along with the aforementioned Vikings as well as circus artists and acrobats, all performing against a high-tech, wall-to-floor immersive projection system measuring more than 20,000 square feet.
RZO is taking the GM role (a theatrical term) on the tour, and RZO partner Bill Zysblat says the show has many similarities and many differences to rock mega-tours. "Some of the similarities are in the size of the entourage, number of trucks, weight of the show," he says. "This is more ambitious than any arena rock tour I have ever been involved with. Imagine the biggest and heaviest tour you have ever seen. Now imagine the largest set components of that tour flying around an arena, often with people on them."
Zysblat says he's seen the spectacular three times in Australia. "After the first time I saw it, I was walking backstage and before I realized what I was doing, I found myself petting one of the dragons saying, 'Nice show,'" he says. "Think of it as a cross between 'Walking With Dinosaurs' and Cirque du Soleil, all on steroids."
In its first incarnation, "Dragon" was too big to fit many North American arenas, Cohl says, "because it was too heavy and big. But we've worked through that, and now we can play 98% of them. About a third of the buildings booked on the tour originally were worried. Most of them, when they checked it out, were OK. Then there were some for which the weight and size of the show had to be adjusted. But it's all been worked out, and now it's cool."
Beyond cool. "This is huge, monumental," Cohl says. "But huge, in and of itself, is meaningless. It's also incredibly creative and great fun."
So why did he get involved? "My real interest, that most people never quite got, is that, whether in film or theater or tennis or concerts, I love connecting an audience with something that gives them a thrill," Cohl says. "This is exactly it."
Among the promoter's main jobs is creating awareness and, specifically in the case of "Dragon," messaging its hugeness. Cohl explains his strategy: "The No. 1 thing is, we've got to show [the scale of the endeavor]. This is one where a thousand words doesn't even equal a picture. We're going to get it started, we'll bring people from all over the country to see it, we'll get it online, and off we'll go."