Carson and Barnes Circus, in the 1960s

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ignored by Big Apple Critics, Ringling’s Long Coney Island Date Proves Promising .... Good "Boom" Biz Points to Likely Return


Updated and revised, 9/12: Regretfully, my original posting possibly lent a misleading impression about the crowds who patronized the show. In particular, I implied that a rough element associated with the gangs who helped "decimate" Coney Island made the tent not always the most pleasant place to visit. My report was largely based upon remarks, some of which I evidently misunderstood, made to me in an e-mail from a Brooklyn-based source. That source has since clarified certain things he said. As for the business, he claims it was not so wildly mixed, but "excellent" overall. That is good, if true. So, wishing to report this as fairly as possible, deferring to his on-the-scene account, I have revised this post essentially to eliminate my negative characterization of some of the crowds and changed my take on the business from "OK" to "good." Am I absolutely certain "good" is the correct word? No. But anybody who has followed circuses will know how hellishly difficult it is to obtain accurate body counts unless you yourself are inside the tent every day. I have also since checked with some other sources.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Boom A Ring, which recently wound up a three-month stay at Coney Island and is reported to be headed for European dates, met with mixed turnouts at the turnstiles. According to sketchy information provided by one anonymous source sympathetic to the circus, the performance schedule was reduced to fewer shows per week in August. Wednesday morning performances were virtual washouts. Ironically, the other two mid-week shows on Wednesday drew the largest crowds. A good number of happy customers asked if Ringling would return next summer. So far, staffers believe that they will be back. Perhaps a shorter run will ensue.

According to my source, "Crowds were noisy and enthusiastic." He observed a great many people at the concession stands haggling over prices, same as they do at indoor and outdoor stands along Canal Street. The show, which played in a neighborhood dominated by the projects, was well monitored by law enforcement officials from the 60th precinct. The summer run was without incident.

Checking with other sources close to the scene, the impression conveyed of actual business is somewhat murkier. Walk up traffic was observed to be very weak. Cool wet weather did not help. Feld's original plan to offer three daily shows during August, counting on brisk summer traffic, was not met with expected patronage, and so the morning shows were cut back.

One unnamed Ringling employee, interviewed by "Thunderbolt Kim" for the blog, Coneyisland.com, was asked if she enjoyed Coney and would miss it. Yes, she answered, "but 3 months in the same location was a long time."

This, make no doubt, is not the ideal location for any circus, not with all the bleak empty space around it where a thriving amusement park once stood. Will Kenneth Feld give the hardly revitalized Coney Island, minus seedy fenced-in Astroland, which closed last year, a long-term chance? Or will he throw in the towel like he did on his short-lived Barnum's Kaleidoscape? Only time will tell. My guess is that he'll give the date at least another year, assuming the information contained in this post is generally correct.

Strangely, Boom A Ring was generally ignored by Big Apple critics. Even The New York Times, which rarely visits a circus these days that it does not have something good to say about, inexplicably decided not to review the first Ringling under canvas circus on American soil in over fifty years. Among a slender slate of mixed feedback, Boom drew two notices from The Brooklyn Paper, one negative, the other positive. It earned a rave from the theatre-centric on-line website, TheatreMania. Ten dollar tickets apparently hastened many foot steps onto its midway. Here is what one blogger, Travalanche, had to say:

"That’s it. Time to eat my words, and then wash them down with Kool-Aid. A few weeks ago I posted an item here in praise of the Cole Brothers Circus, one that elevated that show at the expense of the vastly bigger, badder Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey outfit. But yesterday, I saw the latter organization’s tented show Boom-a-Ring out at Coney Island, and I have to reverse myself. While still not the circus of my dreams, it sets a new high water mark."

[photo, top, from coneyisland.com website: Councilman Domenic Reechia speaking during Coney Island Appreciation Night hosted by the circus, September 2]

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