Holiday Look Backs, this from 2006 ...
A number of producers, among them Kenneth Feld, seem to think so. They are elevating star joeys to the level of what the Wall Street Journal has dubbed "the power clown."
This artistically expedient trend began with David Larible landing in the Feld fold. He may have been good for a single-season-novelty. Beyond that, Larible hogged too much ring time and overstayed his welcome by too many seasons. I avoided one edition of Ringling because of him. I couldn't take it anymore. I have always argued that Larible's presence, by then old hat to most circus goers, did not help Barnum's Kaleidoscape; to the contrary, had Larible not been there, Feld might have been forced to engage more acts. What a novel concept. Did the expense-heavy BK go on to turn millions for the Felds and make showbiz history? Just asking.
There was a time (and with some shows there still is, thankfully) when funny faces cavorted briefly in spangled shadows between top-flight acrobats and flyers. They mocked the airs of the stars; they pranced around the hippodrome track with their hilarious get-ups, contraptions and semi-delinquent swagger. They provided wonderful counterpoint.
When did they themselves become the stars? In Europe, maybe they always were; on American sawdust, the latest to assume the role is Giovanni Zoppe, who plays a clown named Nino, starring in the ultra-small, ultra embracing Zoppe Family Circus. I saw the show last night in Hollywood, where it was making its first appearance at the city's annual Feast of San Gennaro -- a combo of eats, neat old carny rides and singers. The Zoppe program contained only two or three good acts (the dogs stole the show); the rest was Nino Nino Nino nearly non-stop: Nino in the seats. Nino in the ring. Nino in disguise. Nino padding a very thin program to give it a one-hour look.
Giovanni, to his credit, did deliver some tickling turns. The best was an amusingly inventive ride (something I've never seen) around a loop-the-loop. Bravo to that! The rest was not much, but then again, what can one expect these days for a ten dollar adult ticket? (Kids got in for half that). You got to sit down under a charming old tattered tent around a real ring. The crowd of maybe four hundred souls appeared to warm to the unpretentious party atmosphere.
Strange, though, that from the famed Zoppe Riding Family (yes, the troupe that carried lovable Cucciola clear into De Mille's film The Greatest Show on Earth) came only one horse, and only one horse rider, a "ballerina" -- you guessed already? Yes, Nino in drag.
Did an overworked funny face carry this $10 show? Nope. Can a power clown save the circus? I think not.
[photo, above, of Poodles Hanneford]