Circus Heaven at Monte Carlo

Circus Heaven at Monte Carlo
The endurng greatness of circus around the world is annually affirmed by Princess Stephanie

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sunday Morning with Showbiz David: Challenged More Than Ever by "The Ever Changing, Never Changing Circus"

From October 2, 2011 

My soul feels stretched like endless mist across time, by thousands of years as I consider how "circus" has meant so many things to so many different people across time's evolving sweep -- from the blood and thunder of Roman chariot races to the soaring poetry of today's virtual ballets in the sky.

My soul accepts the infinite reality that "circus" will never always be the same, not by a thousand triples or a hundred pratfalls. And so, my spirit surrenders to what is out there now in the ring, coming my way, trying to win me over -- as opposed to what is no longer there and may never return. And in the acceptance of this, I take my seat yet another time, glance upon the ring before me as a blank slate, and hope it will fill and overflow in ways both familiar and fresh, sweep me up on a ride and, at the end, send me out still half-way in the air, cheered, inspired, a believer once more.

I know it may not, but if I do not go, what might I miss?

History shows us, whether we like it or not, that the show is forever changing, as it must if it is to stay alive in the present. Who could have imagined 20-30 years ago that Ringling-Barnum would not always present a flying trapeze act?

Old timers once lamented the passing of the talking clown. They resented the disruptive enormity of "three rings" rather than just a single circle.

Like shifting sand patterns on the beach, so too the shifting patterns of clubs in motion, bodies off springboards, dogs onto horses turning clever tricks ...

I entered the tents barely in time to catch the last act of the old Roman horse races ending the show. Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. still staged them, rough and real, as late as around 1960.

Midway through my spangled infatuations, the great Ringling ringmaster Harold Ronk, sitting out in the seats with me before a show at the Cow Palace, talked up the "four staples" he firmly believed to be circus essentials: "Elephants, flying acts, wild animals and clowns." How wise was he in his own time. Three of Harold's staples, in fact, match the only acts I can recall from my very first circus experience, around the age of five, at Polack Bros. Possibly Polack did not present wild animals, or they, too, I would have remembered.

Decades have passed. Now there is Cirque du Soleil, minus three of the staples. Now there is the "wheel of destiny," nearly a staple that was no where around when I peaked into the tent; now, dazzling ensemble variations on risley. And now, up there over the ring, young aerialists are carving out captivating new flight patterns in the big top skies.

Author Earl Chapin May called it "the ever changing, never changing circus." Lately, I have started to question his thesis. But then again, maybe in a broader sense he was right. Right if we accept the big top's surviving will and ability to reinvent its power to astound and amuse.

Next show, please! Stretch my soul in another unexpected direction, if you must. It feels more flexible, open, willing than ever. Show me whatever new magic you have that just might astound and amuse me. And renew my faith in the great spangled parade ...


Friday, January 30, 2015

French Circus Festival Loves Animals -- Spreads Medals World Wide -- Germany Tops with Three -- U.S. Lands Two

Here are the results of the 2015 Massy International
 Circus Festival in France

Prize of the President of the Republic
Sokolov Troupe (Russia)  teeterboard

Gold Medals
Duss Family (Germany)   sea lions
Picasso Jr.  (Spain)   juggling
Zhang Fan (China)   slack wire

Silver Medals
Sacha Houcke & Gaby Dew (France)  liberty horses
Josef Richter Troupe  (Hungary)      bareback riders
Jordan McNight (United States)      contortion

Bronze Medals
Adriana Folco (Italy)      elephants
Duo Vanegas (Colombia)   wheel of death
Carmen Zander  (Germany )             tigers
Olimpo's Brothers  (Brazil)       hand to hand

Jury Special Award
Bello Nock (United States)     clown

Rosgoscirk Prize
Kai Cao (China)       rebound juggler

City of Massy Prize
Pavel Vyakin (Russia)  bears

Brittany Circus Prize
Celine Moreno (France)  host / presenter

Strass 2000 Prize
Adriana Folco (Italy)  elephants

French Circus Club Prize
Carmen Zander (Germany)   tigers

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Now Appearing at Theatre YouTube: Mary Martin in South Pacific – YES – Mary Martin! .... 2nd Feature: Kelli O’Hara in the Broadway Revival ... Curtain Up on the Digital Proscenium!

Ever wish you could have seen Mary Martin in South Pacific? If you’re willing to be the only person in the theatre, now you can.  But if grainy black and white film leaves you wanting, link in a blink to a front row seat at the glorious Lincoln Center revival of 2008.

And give your regards to YouTube!

Blessed with one of Broadway’s greatest scores ever, and with the courage to explore the perilous intersection of love and racial prejudice, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 hit, South Pacific, became the second longest-running Broadway musical at the time (behind only another, longer-running, R&H smash,  Oklahoma), and was awarded a Pulitzer prize for drama.

When it was revived, in 2008, at Lincoln Center, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, I was won over by the production’s shimmering professionalism  — 36 musicians in the pit, expansive sets that seemed to extend clear across the sea.  So thrilling, indeed, that I returned to New York the following year to see the show once again (from, as I would luck out, a superior seat), and liked it even more.

Keep in mind, for the point of this post, that I was watching it from a single fixed position.

Was it really that good?

No musical is perfect, not even South Pacific.  They are best seen in the medium for which they were conceived. On film in 1958, South Pacific fairly sustained its glowing reputation.  On television in 2001, with Glen Close playing (or slaying) the role of Nellie Forbush, it did not.

There is now a third emerging venue for Broadway addicts  — viewing filmed performances of musicals.  You can watch the Live From Lincoln Center film of South Pacific, broadcast on PBS in 2010, all the way through without breaks, on YouTube.   But beware: Multiple camera angles and closeups will be telling you where to look every beat of the way. And you may find yourself gazing up close at something you have long admired, only to discover flaws in the fabric.  Or rather, in this particular fabric.   Here are some of my reactions to the 2008 revival:

Some assets:

* Amdrew Samonsky's Lt. Joseph Cable marks the best acting performance in the show.  Although I miss his predecessor Matthew Morrison's stronger rendition of "Younger than Springtime," Samonsky's uniquely wrought Cable is even more impressive here.

* Loretta’s Ables Sayre’s Bloody Marry also favors a grittier realism, which deepens the tension in her angry confrontation with Cable over his refusal to marry Liat.  Another bravo performance.

* My Girl Back Home: How lucky we are to have this song!  It was dropped out of town from the original New York bound production, reinstated in the 1958 movie, as it is here.  The number's poignant innocence marks the genius of Dick and Oscar in mining lyrical gold from common ordinary moments between common ordinary people.  My brother Dick pointed out to me how Oscar Hammerstein, tellingly, did not write, for Cable to sing,  “I loved her a lot,” but “I liked her a lot.”

 * More realism in the wartime atmosphere and military scenes, credit advanced stage technology.

Some  drawbacks:

* Kelly O’Hara’s Nellie Forbush suffers a little from the SC factor: squeaky clean.   

* Paulo Szot’s Emile DeBeque is just okay. In closeups, Szot looks more like a fine singer dutifully acting than a fine actor having lost himself in the role.  Nor does Szot bring the illusion of advanced age to the role that Ezio Pinza did in the original.

* Between O’Hara and Szot, then, there is little age difference on the surface, thus rendering mute the younger woman-older man theme from the original that strengthened  the show’s social daring-do.  Easy to imagine the producers shunning this issue in order not to alienate all of those young girls out there said to keep Times Square ticket windows humming.
* Danny Burstein’s funny-to-fading Luther Billis disappoints:  Burstein starts out on a strong comedic note in “Nothing Like a Dame,” but then proceeds to slowly lose levity, as his persona hardens into the second act, making his drag scene in “Honey Bun” more a drag than a laugh. 

* Tediously long military dialogue: My biggest gripe with Oscar Hammerstein has been the excessive stretches of dialogue that mark his librettos.  Example here, Billis getting reprimanded for his shenanigans at sea.  This labored office encounter could have been dispensed with in less than half the lines.  



She, too, now lives on in YouTube,  albeit, in a black and white film of the 1951 London production at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, said to have been a virtual duplicate of the Broadway original, but without an audience present.  The show was filmed in 16mm  on Tuesday,  May 6, 1952, by four cameras, one placed in the balcony of the theatre.  The quality of the film is rough, not all scenes ideally -- or even quite fully -- framed.  For music theatre buffs, however, watching this may feel akin to discovering a long-lost and very rare archeological dig.  Writing about it in Playbill, Steven Suskin justly hails  “Mary Martin's legendary performance; not a Hollywood version, reconfigured for the screen, but Mary doing precisely what she did on stage when South Pacific first opened”

Martin proves herself all over again.   Sugar in her heart, yes-maybe, but deep down in them there bones, there is vinegar, too. ( She debuted on Broadway in a racy 1938 Cole Porter Musical, singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” waking up the next morning a star.)  I had never fully realized what a great actor she was, not just a musical theatre superstar, until now.   She IS Nellie Forubsh.  Another revelation is her terrific way with dancing, as full of magical animation as a Disney carton.  A miracle of mirth in motion. Has there ever been anyone like her? Will there ever be again?

Some other impressions.                                     

Balli Ha'i: A song that I have long regarded as lovely if a tad long –  I now regard as phenomenal, thanks to Murel Smith’s powerfully embracing rendition of the number, lifting it, and practically the entire theatre, into a transcendent mystical realm.  Little wonder hers would be the singing voice lip synced by Juanita Hall in the 1958 film.

Major miscasting:  Peter Grant, as Lt. Cable, delivers his songs well, but cuts a remarkably ineffectual figure.  On the upside, Fredd Wayne’s warmly amusing Luther Billis is about as funny as would Phil Silvers have been, had he played the role.

Well paired:  Wilbur Evans merges fine acting with commanding vocals to forge a persuasively earnest DeBeque, making him an ideal match for Martin.

Even Tony and Maria didn't hit the sack this fast, or did they?  The Cable- Liat overnight romance in a dubiously pay-as-you-lay-setting, neither speaking the other's language, continues to strain credibility.  Of course, all is forgiven given the glorious younger-than-springtime that follows, right? 

Prolonged military strategy scenes, especially in Act II, are even more tedious here than those in Bartlett Sher’s Lincoln Center staging, stopping the show dead in its tracks.  But, then again, with no audience in the house, you are at a major disadvantage, it being understood that audience reactions influence our own reactions.  Well, all of us except for maybe John Simon.

All of this having been said, just being able to see Mary Martin in the bloom of this great American musical is a true and lasting treasure. 
When I talked up the Lincoln Center revival with my brother, urging him to consider flying back to New York to see it, I tempered my enthusiasm with this caveat:

“However, I should tell you — it is still South Pacific.”

Well, no, I should have added, “It is still South Pacific –  minus Marty Martin”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Showbiz David's New Book - HOPELESSLY HOLLYWOOD - Jumps to Number ONE on Amazon's Hot New Releases in Broadway Musicals

As of this moment, today, PST 4:39, my new book seems to have found a way out of the gate, and is now topping Amazon's list in the category, "Hot New Releases in Broadway and Musicals"

Book moved well ahead of Godspell (#2) and Out of the Woods (#3).

 From Big Dipper Press, 260 pages: $9.49.  Available on Amazon.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Big Tops Round the World: First "American" Circus Awards ... to The Daring Young Comrade on the Korean Trapeze ...

American Circus Awards, Really?  Touted by Circus Now to be the first annual handouts, and presented in the Big Apple Circus tent, here they are:

* The Community Impact Award: Big Apple Circus
* The Evolving Circus Award: Gypsy Snider, for directing circus acts into Pippin.
* The Elevating Circus Award: Phillipe Petit, high wire stunt man

Also featured during the celebration were “several of America’s most esteemed performers," including  Nico & Charlotte from the Montreal based 7 Fingers and members of BAC cast.  Some misc. musings:

* Is Montreal part of America?  And if it is, then what about circus in South America? 

* Why Frenchman Phillipe Petit?  If we are really talking American, why not  the arguably more accomplished Nik Wallenda, who was actually born in the United States of America?  (Oh, that's right, Nik didn't write ten books -- publish or you're just another peanut pusher)

*  Why so few categories, and who were the judges?

*  Another futile attempt to put the U.S. on the international map?  The affair strikes me as elitist, and when you look at Circus Now's underpinnings, it's academic.  I admire their reach, I doubt much will come of it.  Elsewhere in the world, where aspiring circus performers spend more time over sawdust than before classroom chalk boards, real circus schools are producing real ring stars, and real festivals are honoring world class talents.  Not here.  Not yet.  Nice try, Circus Now.   Next time, how about spending a little time outside New York city?  There's a circus called Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey that you might want to check out, too.

His grand kids wanted to leave the circus at intermission, Humbug!  That would be Tim Torkildson, writing in Circus Report about a day at the circus – the show having it all, to his eyes,  but still unable to hold his i-Brats beyond the break.  Refuses to name the show, which undermines the potential value of the article's depth, and so I wrote to  the Biggerstaffs asking, why?  Jan e-mailed me back, promising to ask Tim for the name of the circus. Don't count on Tim answering.

Okay, check your politics at the red wagon.  Let’s travel to one of those far off lands where they spend less time navel gazing on the “static trapeze,” more time turning multiple somersaults through the air.   Drum rolls, comrade, if you please ...  or if you don’t please!

North Korean exceptionalismPlanet Circus raving over a new flying act seen at a festival, conceived up there in that moral void, featuring a mind-boggling array of inventive action, Russian swing included, but rooted in true muscle power and including — QUAD ALERT!  QUAD ALERT!  — yes, a flyer turning quads. "... not only leaves you speechless because of its tricks," writes Helmut Grosscurth, "but it is also fun to watch because of its smooth choreography and fluent moves." What is it about tyranny, communism and Buddha that produces some of our most riveting ring stars?  Might it be a climate of oppression that fosters rigorous restraint in the face of hardship, and the fierce self-discipline necessary to succeed just the same?  Just wondering, Comrade ...   Okay, back to the American way ...

Remarkable Circus Performance from Big Apple:  Another great DVD I just purchased from Tim Tegge, taking us back to 1989 (still, in my view, the last great decade for circus in America) -- Grandma Goes West.  A rich outing, coated in the mystique of the old west, finely directed with six outstanding acts (at least), presided over by ringmaster Paul Binder, another class act, opening the show and then remaining a silent presence throughout.  Funny, but Grandma, hardly as amusing as I had expected, is hardly the star of this great opus.  The score was an asset. And, oh, the most talented performing animal I have EVER seen, Anna May, presented by and performed with the masterful  Ben Williams. This incredibly gifted elephant, who dazzled Circus Vargas crowds, leaves me speechless. It was like watching a Disney animation.  DVD highly recommended.

Ooops!  Enough for now.  More later ...

Friday, January 09, 2015

Peter Pan Live! on NBC Savaged by Those Who Wished to Savage it, and Many Did -- Ratings 50% Below Sound of Music

Warning: If you are Peter Pan fan, please go no further.  It is not my intent to rattle your  dreams of flight – at the end of a long rope.

I nearly slept through the first Peter Pan, decades ago when NBC presented the original Broadway version live. All I remember was Marty Martin flying over a stage attached to a long wire, singing some songs that sounded more like songs made for TV than for hit Broadway shows, and this funny man, Cyril Richard, making me laugh.  Lots of pirates running around the stage, but, somehow, the whole thing never hooked me.  I sat there trying to feel attached to a story -- if only I could find a story.

When Mary Martin flew, yes, the show on TV truly took glorious flight.  Back down on the stage, it looked and sounded like a second rate musical made for  television.

Thus, I grew up Peter Pan-averse, unable to catch the spirit of flight when endless touring productions of the show flew in and out of town – even when my late friend Mike, a Peter Pan nut, managed to pin me down into a seat before the show by announcing on my birthday – Surprise! – that he had purchased two tickets to the show and ONE was for me. The venue was in San Francisco, where Peter Pan, adapted for the stage,  first flew.  On Broadway, it only flew a total of 149 times – by today’s standards, a full scale fiasco.  But Peter Pan on TV and on National Tours would not be the first  Broadway turkey to enjoy a successful post-New York career.

Sitting next to Peter Pan advocate Mike, I managed to put on – force would be more like it —  a happy Peter Pan face, faking it all the way.  All the while, praying for the final curtain to fall.  Maybe by then, I was just to stubborn to give the show a chance.  My brother Dick is a great Pan fan.   You see, they are all around us.   Maybe I should try facing the show with him.

So, yes, I was more than ready to be tickled by a barrage of nasty anti-Peter Pan reviews, over NBC’s recent Peter Pan Live!, a followup to last year’s NBC Sound of Music.  The show starred Allison   Williams, daughter of the network's newscaster, Brian (a mere conincidence, I imagine), and Chritsoper Walken, seen above.  Viewership, half of that for last year's Sound of Music, was still considered a big success. On balance, critical reception favored Peter Pan over last year's more even ill-remembered Sound of Music.  This Pan was panned by many.

I only watched a few minutes of the show,  deciding I would rather rent it from Netflix than sit through a three-hour commercial-intense ordeal.  When I tuned in, Williams was finely at work on a song, and her winning voice did engage me.

Critics,  you're on!

Associated Press: Peter Pan needed a lot more fairy dust. NBC's live telling of J.M. Barrie's classic tale Thursday was an oddly ponderous, disconnected, disjointed and jerky mess. If it had been a Broadway show, it would have gotten the hook (pun intended).
It wasn't the small things that broke the spell. Ungraceful wire work, clunky transitions, a Tinkerbell that was as annoying as a mosquito and sounded like a wind chime, a tea cup that fell from Peter's head and some technical glitches.  "Peter Pan Live!" simply never flew.

Variety: A woefully lifeless production that, the fancy wiring notwithstanding, never quite got off the ground. (And neither did your boring review, Variety)

Huffington Post:   ... it became monotonous. Many of my friends with kids said their little ones lost interest halfway through ...Then I went back and watched Martin's version and no contest, the latter still shines like a new penny and holds you captivated in its magical spell.

Morning After:  a three-hour college musical theater show whose dullness was punctuated with impressive gayness.

Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty, tweeting:

Tweet:  With “The Sound of Music,” NBC seemed to be employing a strategy of saving the American musical by killing it.

Tweet: With Peter Pan, I think the plan is to save the American musical by etherizing it.

Tweet: I think this experiment in live musical theater may just prove that the age of enforced commercial viewing is over.

Given my Peter Pan atheism, for you whom I may have offended, here, from the New York Times, a gift to restore your faith:
New York Times: Peter Pan Live! was a loving, lavish tribute to a beloved musical that offered a new generation of children a chance to use their smartphones to keep Tinkerbell alive. (Peter asked children to clap, but an NBC crawl urged them to also tweet.)
It was a cautious, please-all production, but it took guts to do it.

What next, NBC Live?  Here are some ideas:

Annie Live! -- perfect for your target audience, and a great show

Sweeney Todd Live! (take it to your critics, and dare them to dis this one)

Oklahoma Live! -- hard to imagine your messing up this indestructible classic, but what a challenge to try.

Sunday in the Park with George Live!  -- If you can bring this Stephen Sondheim yawner to life, that would mark a first for the show, and a public service award for you.



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Showbiz David’s Year End Circus Kudos (if others can do it, why can't I?) ...

 Legends, at Ringling-Barnum
First off, please take note:  These kudos are based upon my having seen, in some form, the following shows during 2014:

Big Apple Circus, Luminosity, Queens
Circus Bella, San Francisco
Ringling-Barnum, Legends, Oakland
Kelly Miller (from a DVD of the entire performance)
Big Apple Circus, Metamorphosis,  live streaming tape delay, in a movie house, Emeryville, CA
Cirque du Soliel, Kurios, San Francisco.

So, to be clear, among the shows I did not see, there are these:
Carson and Barnes
Cole Bros.

Thus, I am issuing Kudos rather than Awards.

Drum Rolls! Fanfare! Enter the Honored!

Outstanding Circus Performance of the Season
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey - Legends 

Greatest Advance in Showmanship for a Single Producer
John Ringling North II.  Two of this years best acts are first-time-in Americas.  North is proving his potential to rise higher.

Best Staged and Scored  Act
Dosov Tetterboard troupe, Big Apple Circus - Luminocity.  Bloody brilliant.

Best Contortion Act
Amina and Azai, from Mongolia, Kelly Miller Circus
Transcending the tortuously slow muscularity of arguably far more complicated contortion routines out there, yet these two gals invest their crisply animated  repertoire with intricate leg movements, impressively unified and coordinated. It is the only contortion act I've seen in a long while that I would welcome seeing again. (Yes, and yes - slow slow slow leaves me bored bored bored.)

Single Most Mesmerizing Display
Ty Tojo, Big Apple Circus - Luminocity

Best Original Score
David Bandman and Jeffrey Holmes, Big Apple Circus - Lumnocity

Best Live Music, tie
Big Apple Circus, Luminoicty, Rob Slovki, director
Circus Bella, Rob Reich, composer, accordionist, and band leader.  Reich's work bubbles with giddy melodic bounce and enthusiasm, making Bella a continuous joy to the ear.

Outstanding New Discovery
Showmanly Abrham Gebre, ball bouncing juggler, Kelly Miller Circus.  He somersaults into the tent, makes charismatic eye contact, and pulses the show with natural star power.

Best Ringmaster (Role) of the Season
John Kennedy Kane appearing to play John Kennedy Kane,, Big Apple Circus, Luminocity

Best  Reliably Good Ringmaster
John Moss III, Kelly Miller Circus
Moss repeats a recurring traditional role with class and power, unhampered by the scripting that can
compromise or corrupt the natural talents of others, like John Kennedy Kane or Jonathan Lee Iverson.

Outstanding Novelty Act
Lamount, the Human Volcano, Kelly Miller Circus. 
A work of deft ingenuity and staging based on fire eating, Lamount expands standard fire-eating tricks into a riveting spectacle of panache, funky humor, and dazzling fireworks in the dark.

Outstanding use of hula hoops in atypical fashion
Natasha Kaluz, Circus Bella,
for fashioning a most engaging juggling routine using hula hoops as props

Outstanding Wild Animal Display
Alexander Lacey, Ringling-Barnum - Legends

Outstanding Mixed Animal Display
Vicki Zsilak and Hans and Maria Close, featuring dogs, pigs and two jumping kangaroos.
Ringling-Barnum - Legends

Most Promising Young Wild Animal Trainer on the Rise
Ryan Holder, Kelly Miller Circus.  One of his charges moves about upright on his hind legs for an impressively extended period, his expressive front paw movements seeming to "feel" the music of Michael Jackson's Thriller.  Memorable.

Outstanding Razzle Dazzle
Smirnov Duo, Quick Change (attire), Big Apple Circus, Metamorphosis.

Outstanding Production Number
The opener at Ringling-Barnum - Legends
A supernatural sensation; I've never felt so far out -- into another world. Absolutely stunning.

Outstanding Creativity in Circus Production
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios.

Outstanding Presentation of Traditional Chinese Acrobatics
The hoop divers,  Ringling-Barnum - Legends

Outstanding Combination of Ground Acrobats and Aerial
Trampoline and Vaulting, Cirque du Soleil, Kurios.  These two terrific turns electrify the crowd.

Funniest Clowning  
(not easy, there were so few well-earned laughs out there):
Ringling Clowns spoofing a bike riding act, Ringling-Barnum - Legends.

Most  Exciting Ringmaster Announcement
John Moss at Kelly Miller:  "Children of all ages!  John Ringling North the second welcomes you to the two thousand fourteenth edition of the Kelly Miller Circus!"

Yes, I'm a hopeless Ringlingphile.  But then, so are you, right?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Christmas Cards

Remember Christmas cards?

Here is Don, writing to me December 12, 1958, sharing his plans for a card.

"Have been thinking of having some Christmas cards made sometime.  I would like to have maybe a Sunburst wagon wheel laying against a fence in the snow, or else have a barn in the background and then have all sorts of old wagons just outside with the snow quite deep and covering most everything. Would be a lot of work and all but would be interesting.  By gollys, just thought since I have the barn and wagons I guess that I could take a picture of my own stuff and use cotton to create the snow????"

I  love his imagined images.

Oh, such simpler times they were, and I suppose each generation ends up saying essentially the same thing.  I'd almost be happy to give up my PC and the lush research-communication benefits to get back some of the things we've lost, like a telegram guy knocking on your door, one telephone in only one room in the house.  The afternoon paper landing out there on the grass, its headlines bearing an urgency.  Three TV channels, so much easier.  Playing with kids outside on summer evenings.  I guess now, they face book in the dark.  How pitifully remote.

One of the best things back then was waiting each day in December for the postman to arrive with another stack of cards for our mail box. Sometimes, he'd make two deliveries!  The word "Christmas" was not yet fraught with political hysteria. 
How I miss getting lots of cards in the mail, most of them back then addressed to our family.  The envelopes.  The colors inside.  Snowy scenes of sleighs and brick houses, their windows aglow with sparking lights around tinseled trees. The warm greetings. The valued handwriting of friends and family.

I still like to send them, but only to those from whom, the previous season, I'd received one as well.  Otherwise, I feel part of an irrelevant tradition nearly as quaint as vaudeville.   I keep a list; it has been narrowing down over the years.

When I get an e-card from somebody, I am just as apt to delete it.  So cold. So anonymous. So mass produced; how easy to add my name to your list. 

A handwritten card connects one soul to another.  Shows the effort taken to reach out.

I don't know how Don's card turned out that year.  Here is a card of myself, which I sent out several years before.  Taken of me at the Redwood Empire Roller Palace in Santa Rosa.   What perfect penmanship, I am so proud looking back!   I think I peaked in my 12th year, and then I go so lost, tangled up in scribbling out words, sentences, revisions upon revisions,  that I lost my hand.

Many years later, as we faced the last year of the old millennium, I sent out a photo of my amusement park in the works, to the most people who would ever receive a card from me, about 60.  The name of my park is what inspired me to send it.

A Century of Thrills ... May '99 Be Your Best Yet

The card came with the above greeting.  The sepia photo shows my model midway so young then, with only the Big Dipper roller coaster, Thimble Theatre fun house (based on the one rotting away in a back shed at Baraboo), and The Whip.  In seasons to come, I would add the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ferris Wheel, Swings and, now in the works, Laugh in the Dark.

12.1.13/revised-expanded 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Hollywood Memoir by Showbiz David Hits the Amazon Shelves Around Christmas

Follow Broadway dreamers Mike and David down to LA, believing they are the next Rodgers and Hammerstein waiting to be discovered. Toiling in the shadows of Tinseltown, where on dozens of small stages eager young actors fresh off the bus share the spotlights with forgotten screen idols and new stars rising, the two collaborators are soon cured of their heady illusions. Author-playwright David Lewis evokes an amusing memoir of his years in that dream-drenched world, set in the 1980s – amusing until the City of Angels sends the two dreamers down separate paths, one ultimately tragic. 

Hopelessly Hollywood: My Dreamland Diary, from Small Town Extra to Musical Thaetre King for a Day, is a story of the town’s seductive spell over Lewis — from Bette Davis making a movie in his home town, to the night in Hollywood when he learned that his musical about the Ringling brothers was Broadway bound. That’s what he was told. That’s what he read. And you can read all about it in this factually fascinating tale of life with real people in a real place — otherwise famed for glitter, glory, hype and heartache, and star-studded scandals. Here is Hollywood laid bare. Hollywood with a soul.

260 pages/illustrated/$14.95

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Circus Scramble: Telling Cirque’s Survey What I Think ... When 3-Rings Ruled ... Grandma, Was That Really YOU? ... Ringling Promises New Old Fashioned Danger ... And More! ...

Update:  12/21/14:  Cirque du Soleil now said to be looking for major investment partners, including possibility of selling a "majority stake," as reported in The Financial Times of  London.

Finally, I opened a survey sent to me by Cirque du Soleil, since I had invested $95.00 to get a decent seat at Kurios - not without sight line obstructions.  The questions are extensive, all of them being answered by the usual 1 to 10 rating system.  At the end, comes a blank window, asking me to post a comment.  And here was mine:

“Here is my biggest surprise.  Guy Laliberte talked about returning to the company's roots. This is hardly that, but an ever more elaborate special effects production, giving short shrift to circus acts of a world class order."

Among tons of questions -- choreography, direction, characters, lights, --- the only mention of circus action comes in a two word descriptor "acrobatic performances".  They did want to know if I thought there were enough of those, and I think I answered a five or six.

Can Kurios curb an ominous downward trend in critical reception and ticket sales for the company?   Sorry to say, at this point, I don’t feel so emotionally connected to the troupe as I once did -- whatever else they may wish to give me, the circus part should be just as outstanding, too, thank you.

What next down the stack?  From a promo leaflet put out by the American Circus Corporation back in around, I’d guess, circa 1920s, and how stunning a contrast to the above:

“The uncensored circus has received much editorial attention during the current year ... all sorts and conditions of humanity boost the circus spirit, and any organization which will energetically awaken the circus microbes which seem to be inherent in human nature — will sure reap results — but to do so and to give satisfaction a REAL THREE RING CIRCUS IS NEEDED, an ordinary vaudeville or variety circus can no longer be passed off as circus.”

Cultural whiplash:  Where am I now, and how far have I traveled away from that old three ring circus?   I am, it feels, centuries away:  Down Mexico way, more than rumors warn that the big shots who run the country are bent on running animals acts off the lot, and those who pay money to see them are showing up, not too impressed, asking “where are the animals?”  Without which, me no wanna buy a ticket to your dull show.

And here in Oakland, to further deconstruct what is left of the one ring standing, the city council has officially voted bull hooks off the lot, come 2017, giving Feld plenty of time to do his deal making behind the scenes – unless the man can break his fixation on elephants.  If the bans hold, he won’t be welcome in Oakland OR L.A., and who knows what other cities.  More out there are lining up to take similar stands. They have, like it or not, CFA, that damming You Tube of Feld’s elephants backstage getting cursed out and slapped around.  Not pretty when it came out five years ago.  Not any prettier now.

END RINGERS: I’m cooking up an end-of-the-year random list of Goods and Bads, Naughtys & Nices. Did you know, juggling records as of 2006 included 13 rings, 12 balls, 9 clubs — and a partridge in a pear tree?  ... The recent passing of Struppi Hanneford, fabulous in the air, wonderful lady on the ground,  marked a big loss for the great Old Guard of ring artists who once wowed our senses ... Is that really YOU,  Grandma, showing up on the Hanneford show, or is it one of your licensed stand ins?  A Circus Report review drops the name Bary Lubin, the Original as you in the know know, but in other quarters closer to BAC land, Lubin is thought to be living in Sweden. Speaking of clowns,  those who hide out behind funny faces bent on scarring to death the public are now stalking the streets of France, attacking innocents, per Chuck Burnes, in CR ...  Now, even circus clowns are becoming an endangered species.  No animals ... fewer daredevils to speak of -- we are nearly down to the last remaining acceptable default act, to quote from the CDS survey, "acrobatic performances" ... Ah yes, and just in the nick of posting this one, it just hit my brain that Ringling's new opus soon to be uncorked down Florida way is to be called.  Circus Xtreme.  Love it ... And look here -- they are still sending in the clowns!