This first appeared on October 2, 2009
When Forbes puts out a list, the media and public tend to sit up. So when I came across their recently issued “Tops of the big tops: America’s Best Circuses,” I was naturally interested.
I might have dismissed the whole thing out of hand, but when I saw “Best Clowning” going to Ringling’s Zing Zang Zoom, placing the show itself Number 1 on the list, I was rather thunderstruck, to put it mildly. Then again, we all have our own opinions, so I thought, perhaps the Forbes judge was genuinely amused. That is, if the judge did not also work for Feld Entertainment. I was close to tossing the list out.
But then. But then. Wait a minute, they are calling Big Apple Circus's Bello Comes Back “Best Family Show”? Has it even opened yet? I did a little digging. This was getting more odious by the minute.
The list was published on September 10. Bello had not yet come back. That edition of BAC was still, at best, in rehearsals, not slated to premiere until September 24, two weeks later.
I studied the list a little more. “Best Music” to UniverSoul. Sounds like UniverSoul has reinstated their band. But, no, they have not. I checked with an inside source. UniverSoul plays a tape recorded score from CDs.
All three editions of Ringling made the list. Five units of Cirque du Soleil earned citations. Some of their Vegas shows, (like Love), although I have seen none of them, have always struck me as more theatrical than circus. So, really, only three American circuses made a list that supposedly focuses on American circuses.
“Best Clowning” still stuck in my gut. Zing Zang Zoom funnier than Big Apple, or Boom A Ring?
Something about this list started to smell. Something seemed contrived. Or assembled on the fly. Parts of it may have come out of press kits. The story that came with it, written by one Meredith Hansen, quotes only co-producer Nichole Feld, of the Ringling organization, who is evidently learning how to work the media as effectively as did her legendary grandfather, Irvin Feld. Keep your eyes on this Nicole.
Such a smell to this list, I wondered what sort of PR gratuities may have been passed out hand to hand, or slipped under a table at a fancy eatery? And we’re not talking Burger King, kids
So I wrote to Forbes Traveler.Com and Meredith Hansen in the comment box at the end of the story, since it is near impossible to contact them in any other way. I sought clarification, in effect, asking them if they might explain their evaluation process. Who in fact decided on the best shows?
I asked how it was possible to issue a judgment on Bello is Back before the show had opened? And had they, by chance, seen any of the following tent shows: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars? Kelly-Miller? Carson and Barnes? Circus Vargas?
For example, I can see a good case being made for Cole; from what I have heard, they generate a lot of excitement in the air. They’ve got the seven-high wire walk. They’ve got the cannon and the gyro wheel. And they’ve got Elvin Bale’s unique motorbike Globe of Death that splits apart at the center. Cole might qualify for “Best Aerial Acts” Forbes does not address such a category.
They did not reply to my request for information. So I posted a second e-mail in the comment box.
Still no reply. Still, I am waiting.
Should I be surprised? Shocked? After all these years, no. When it comes to reporting on big tops, anything goes. Even in Variety, the so-called "bible of showbiz," which shamelessly allowed Irvin Feld to rewrite circus history in his favor, apparently ad revenue can or once did move mountains. I recall being stunned-shocked-flabbergasted when I read a Variety review of Big Apple Circus, circa 1986, in which Alfred Codona turned a triple. Or when the Variety guy who reviewed Circus Vargas in 1988 found the chimp act “captivating.” In fact, one or more of those chimps had passed away a few weeks before, and the act was no longer in the show. Is that what he found “captivating”?
Forbes and Ms. Hansen, I am waiting for you to come clean and tell us just how you reached your puzzling verdicts.
Perhaps you have another list here that deserves your impeccable attention: “Most Effective Circus Press Kits”
I can think of a few contenders. No, make that just one.