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The spectacle of Marvel superhero movies comes to life on stage in Raleigh 

Durham native Joseph Cox trains for the big show

Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment / Marvel Universe Live

Durham native Joseph Cox trains for the big show

Super-villains invade Raleigh this weekend, but fear not. Despite the arrival of such dastardly types as Loki, Green Goblin, Red Skull and Doctor Octopus, crime stats should stay level thanks to the simultaneous presence of Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Nick Fury and other Marvel Comics superheroes, all battling to keep the bad guys in check and prevent the Cosmic Cube from falling into evil clutches.

This epic conflict is part of Marvel Universe LIVE!, which is essentially a touring, live-action superhero movie, blasting into Raleigh Friday through Sunday. As you might expect when such high-powered foes duke it out, there will be plenty of pyrotechnics, car chases and bodies flying—some voluntarily, some not—in the arena.

One of those bodies belongs to Durham native Joseph Cox.

Cox plays various roles in the huge cast, which features about 25 Marvel characters plus a couple of dozen assorted henchmen, from Extremis super-soldiers to Chitauri warriors (the invading aliens from 2012 film Marvel's The Avengers). One night, Cox is Nick Fury driving a car swarmed by the Chitauri. On another, he swoops around as Falcon. Other nights he may portray one of the Chitauri or Extremis baddies.

"I'm definitely having the most fun playing the villains right now," Cox says. "Probably the Extremis agents are my favorite. Someone in Hollywood said one time that playing villains is the most fun because you get to step outside yourself and just go for it."

click to enlarge Performers rehearse for a 
high-flying scene - PHOTO COURTESY OF FELD ENTERTAINMENT / MARVEL UNIVERSE LIVE
  • Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment / Marvel Universe Live
  • Performers rehearse for a high-flying scene

His choice of favorites may change at some point though, considering that in one scene, Extremis agents are high atop a catwalk fighting Iron Man and other do-gooders. Naturally, it's the evildoers, including Cox, that end up taking most of the 15-foot falls after being dealt heroic blows. Then they clamber back up for another round.

"We've gotten a few scrapes and bruises [during training]" Cox says. "But we're all padded up head to toe so it isn't too bad. Safety is a top concern, but sometimes, to do your best to sell it, you make it a little more real."

The catwalk fight is one of Cox's favorite parts of the show, but he says there are oohs and ahhs sprinkled throughout. "You get the wow factor right away, with a lot of amazing pyrotechnics, when Thor appears at the top of the show," Cox says. "Also at the appearance of the Incredible Hulk. He's 8 feet tall and a massive presence. Everybody takes notice when he shows up on stage, both the audience and the performers."

The Chitauri chasing Fury is another scene to watch for, according to Cox. And since he's sometimes Fury and sometimes Chitauri, he's gotten to see it from both sides.

Many of the cast members come from sports backgrounds, including three-time X Games winner Phil Smage, two-time X Games winner Ashley Fiolek, AAU Junior Olympics National Champion and martial arts expert Kirk Jenkins and Eric Foster, who is the course tester for TV's American Ninja Warrior series.

Cox, who began training and rehearsing with the cast about three months ago, comes to the show from a slightly different path.

"My background is primarily performing," he says. "But I'm very into martial arts. I do parkour. I'm kind of a jack of all trades." He studied contemporary dance at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and spent a summer here taking part in the American Dance Festival. "It was a marvelous environment," he says. "I learned a lot there."

Cox spent most of his childhood in Durham and attended Hillside High. "My graduating class was the first to go into the new building," he says. Now he spends most of his time on the road, but he returns for an occasional family visit, though it's been awhile. He has a brother who still lives here.

Asked if there was a particular spot he hoped to spend some time at while here with the show, he said it "would be really cool to go back to my high school. Hillside had a really strong arts department. It would be nice to try to connect with some of the teachers I worked with back then."

With a U.S. tour schedule booked into 2016 (the show returns to North Carolina in the fall with performances in Greensboro and Charlotte) and plans afoot for an international leg after that, it's a good thing Cox enjoys travel. "It's pretty cozy for me," he says. "I'm really looking forward to the international part."

Between the travel and the training, he hasn't had much time to look ahead. Maybe some day after the show, he might build on the experience and do stunt work in films. But right now, "I'm just focused on Marvel Universe LIVE!," he says.

After all, someone has to grab that Cosmic Cube.

Concept art for Iron Man's Workshop set - PHOTO COURTESY OF FELD ENTERTAINMENT / MARVEL UNIVERSE LIVE
  • Photo Courtesy of Feld Entertainment / Marvel Universe Live
  • Concept art for Iron Man's Workshop set

This article appeared in print with the headline "Glasses-free 3D"

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