When you run a website steeped in nostalgia you never know exactly where the hunt for content will take you. In my quest to catalog and discuss a bunch of the stuff that I loved as a kid I’ve accumulated all sorts of weird and wonderful ephemera along the way that have opened up whole new worlds of stuff that I never experienced as a kid. About 8 or 9 years ago I picked up a lot of magazines on eBay that contained three issues of the very short-lived ThunderCats publication from the Lorimar Publishing Group. These magazines were very similar to the thin floppies you’d see for brands like G.I. Joe, Go-Bots, ALF and the Masters of the Universe, basically branded versions of kid mags like Hot Dog or Dynamite. Most of these were very thin, maybe 20 or 30 pages, and were full of short comics, fold-out posters, short stories, activities and a handful of kid-centric articles and news items. On the whole these are kind of useless in terms of digging up content for sites like this, but every so often there’d be a nugget of pure gold. Whether it was a radical advertisement, a piece of amazing artwork, or in the case of the ThunderCats magazine, specifically issue number 4 from the Fall of 1987, a small photo that drove my imagination bat-shit crazy.
The news section of the magazine was called Eye on Earth (playing off of the Eye of Thundera and Third Earth from the cartoon series), and in this particular issue there was a photo and a short snippet about something that kind of blew my mind when I saw it. Skimming past the info on the Alan Thicke-hosted Animal Crack-Ups show, completely ignoring the Eyes of the Dragon picture book publication notice, there is a very short but tantalizing bit about an amazing stage show called ThunderCats Live! More importantly there was…the picture. A picture that would haunt me for years.
I think we need to enhance that image a bit…
Just. Look. At. That. Nightmare. I don’t even know where to begin. Of course I immediately jumped online and couldn’t find anything about this stage show, or more importantly any more images. All I had was this time photo and an address to write to that no one would ever answer me from. I had so many question. SO MANY. Like, why in the hell was Gumby included in this group of Rankin/Bass costumed characters? Who thought that soft padding was a good idea for a Silverhawks costume? Did the actor who portrayed Mumm-Ra eat any children after (or before) the show? Was this a musical? Did the Silverhawks fly? Was there someone dressed up like a giant Snarf? Were there characters on roller skates?! The only other thing I was able to find at the time was a full-page advertisement from the Winter 1988 Issue of Muppet Magazine that confirmed the other characters and shows that were featured in this show (including the Tigersharks, Karate Kat, and Street Frogs from The Comic Strip cartoon anthology series.)
For years I searched for more imagery and came up empty-handed, and then I did my best to try and scrub this image from my brain. It was doing no one any good to keep thinking about it. It’s not like these kinds of things were rare in and of themselves. Hell, there are dedicated websites and instagram accounts who are doing a great job preserving photos of costumed in-store appearances of characters ranging from Star Wars to the Masters of the Universe. This kind of thing was actually pretty common in the 80s. Personally I never got a chance to see any of these appearances or stage plays, though it was not for a lack of trying. I have a very distinct memory of begging my father to take me to see some Sesame Street show that was playing in a theater adjacent to our Mall in Orlando Florida. In fact, I have a photo of the exact second I saw a bunch of costumed characters posing for photos in the Mall.
That’s me, a second away from a gape-mouthed freakout in 1984 or 85. I’m holding a Mylar Batman and Robin balloon, sporting a snazzy off-brand Member’s Only jacket, and staring over at a bunch of folks dressed up like Bert, Ernie, Cookie-Monster and Big Bird. That was about a close as I ever got to one of these kinds of Stage shows, for better or for worse.
Well, fast forward 35 years and I finally hit the jackpot in terms of finding out some more information about the ThunderCats Live! show. Apparently, sometime after I quit looking for more proof that this show even existed beyond the one tiny photo I’d found, some kind soul scanned in a complete ThunderCats Live! Program Guide and it’s been making the rounds on twitter and Facebook. I usually try not to showcase content that I don’t scan myself, but this thing is just too insane to not share. So without further to do, let’s dig into the insanity that is ThunderCats Live!
I don’t even know where to start with this. I don;t just want to mock this craziness, because honestly, the costumes are actually very well done. I have a feeling that the image from the ThunderCats magazine above was during the pre-production phase when they were attempting to nail the look and feel, because this final Lion-O, is a hundred times more accurate and less freaky. Well, it’s still freaky. But you get the idea. That Snarf though. Shudder.
I love the Broadway action poses in this brochure/program. I can hear the cast loud-whispering ” Thunder, thunder, thunder, ThunderCats! HOOOO!”
I’m also guessing from these images that there were no weapons present in the show outside of Lion-O’s Sword of Omens. So no bo-staff for Cheetara, no whip for Tygra, and no red and blue clawed nun-chucks for Panthro. Also, egads man, Panthro, what is up with your brow and ears?! I mean those aren’t even in the same ratio as the muscle suit, jeepers.
I also see that the Silverhawks costumes were tweaked a bit too. I love that they even worked in masks that could be flipped up to reveal the characer’s faces, though it’s weird that Quicksilver, Steelheart and Steelwill all had metallic facepaint on while the Copperkid is sans his pale blue face. Also, why isn’t Bluegrass carrying an electric guitar? That would be more fitting, right?
And yes, the Silverhawks did indeed “fly”!
As for the rest of the cast of characters, I missed out on The Comic Strip series, so I’m not very familiar with either the Street Frogs or Karate Kat, but I really want to remedy that like right now. In particular the Street Frogs looks like a ton of hip hop fun!
Karate Kat on the other hand is not quite floating my boat. I wonder of these series every hit DVD?
Back to the ThunderCats Live! show, judging by the stills below, the show looks like it was pretty amazing, and yes, there were plenty of roller skates. It’s a bit blurry, but check out Monkian and Jackalman on motorcycles!
I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how Gumby and Pokey worked into this whole thing…
What’s crazy is that even with all of these awesome pictures, this is still just scratching the surface of what was included in this show. There were plenty more characters (like the Tigersharks crew) and villains not pictured including Mumm-Ra and I’m hoping Mon*Star. But look at that rad Melodia below!
For all of those that are dying to see who was responsible for this stage show, check out this last page from the program that lists all of the performers, crew, producers and companies involved in bringing this madness to life.
Finally getting a chance to scope this program has answered a ton of my questions, but I’m still holding out hope that some video eventually is uncovered of the complete show. I’ve learned that the show was professionally recorded (from some of the cast that have spoken out), so it has to be out there. I’ve love to watch it.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this video from Graig Weich, where he shares his memories of seeing the show and flipping though his personal copy of this program on youtube.