photos by Matthew MurphyDon’t blame the latest “new” Big Apple Circus for not daring to shake things up. Judging from the two reviews I have so far found, this latest effort offers up its treats in a dubious context, darkened by heavy metal on the side, sexy vocalizing, and erotic airborne action. All of which evidently makes reviewing it a new kind of challenge. But the best New York critics never shy away from facing whatever may come their way, and letting their pens flow accordingly.
Early in her upbeat notice, The New York Times beat critic, Alexis Soloski, noted:
“I wondered if I had come to the right place.” She was taken aback by an aerial strap act that opens the show, performed by a pair of look-alike platinum blonds, set to heavy metal music. “They spun, swirled and hair-tossed, pressing one crotch atop the other as each did the splits, a visual palindrome that skewed lewd.”
Strap and fabrics are becoming the erogenous zone for new circus revolutionaries.
Another jarring image for Solsoky came in the form of clown Amy Gordon, while roller skating in a corset and top hat and singing “Uptown Funk” – “If you sexy then flaunt it/if you freaky then own it.” Added Soloski, “Perhaps the merch stand could sell me some light-up pearls to clutch.”
But this Times scribe stayed the affirmative, arguing that such sleazy goings-on “couldn’t spoil the annual thrill of seeing a troupe so effortlessly diverse, international and adept” She loved, among the show’s best turns, the “magnificent fluff balls” of the Savitsy cats; the high wire antics of the Lopez family, and the thrilling Wheel of Death – ‘many of us screamed.” And the Times, a long time friend of Big Apple, handed out another Critics Pick.
Question is: Will the attractive talent pool be ill-served by such raucous overtones? Production is apparently weak on thematic overlay. Long-time band leader Rob Slowik is out. Another trumpeter, Wages Argot, is in, his band blasting out brassy originals by Jamine Delwarte and Ada Westfall. From Circus Flora, co-directors Cecil MacKinnon and Jack Marsh staged the program. Evidently, they left their dramaturg in St. Louis.
All of which or none of which, left Michael Sommers, reviewing for The Stage, filing what feels like a soft pan. “Let’s note that the current attraction is not among its finest editions’.
Calling it a strictly “no frills endeavor, “ Sommers gives due credit to a few “admirable” acts, but has little patience for the “Las Vegas” antics and imagery, for “acts on the duller side,” such as juggler Kyle Driggs, and for the lack of a visual showcase of the kind that Paul Binder gave the circus. “There is a strange perfunctory quality to the show.” He cites ringmaster Storm Marrero for frequently working the crowd to clap along, a pandering for applause that “gets tiresome.” Nor did the random-looking wardrobe of up-and-coming designer Emilio Sosa win over Sommers vision, coming off as if “most artists brought their own outfits with them.” Ouch.
It sounds like a challenging mixed bag to me. I’d love to see it for myself. I can see touches of Circus Oz there. UniverSoul, for sure. Obviously, they are trying to make it a more hip show. Will the racier edge pull in a younger, more responsive crowd? Might it turn parents away from bringing their kids? I am waiting to see how CircusTallk reviews this one.
Here on earth, in summation, Sommers gives it 3 out of 5 stars -- “pleasantly entertaining but scarcely memorable.’
Alexis Soloski wraps, “The aim of Big Apple felt shakier this year, and its sense of audience more wobbly, but it’s still a pleasure and a thrill, and the sexy stuff flies over most children’s heads.”
Will the risque atmosphere fill the tent to profitable? Make kitty? Or ... are we closer to last call?
Many thanks to Don Covington for including the complete review in his e-mail send outs. If you try finding it on the Times website, you may be blocked, as was I, at their members-only border.