Clown for a New Day

Clown for a New Day
Dagwood might make it in today's emasculated circus

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Looking Back: Kudos, Jeers & Tears: Still Defying “Dying” Predictions, Circuses Shine (Sort of) in ‘09 ... So Long, Farewell, Henry Edgar

.Pardon me for chirping eternal, but whatever you have to say about our battered big tops, virtually all of them finished out the season, shook the mud off their boots, maybe turned their penny profits into Zero percent CDs, and are back in the barn gearing up and fearing up to do the same all over again in 2010. Oh, are they brave.

From sketchy information I have at hand (isn’t it always), I hereby happily state — or provide free press agentry to all — that customer turnouts were probably somewhat better than the tour before. Count that a good omen.

Before listing some high and low lights of the season just wrapping up (not a comprehensive survey, I must warn you, but based on the circuses I saw and reviews or reports I have read about some of the others), let me blow the whistle loud and long for the owners who manage by hook, crook, rain dance, prayer, reverse mortgage, accidental showmanship or the Mexican Family Plan, to keep their tents in the air, enough of their seats occupied.

Kudos: John Ringling North II faces his senior year as circus owner of Kelly Miller, representing a return of the House of Ringling to active circus management. North's "Concello," manager Jim Royal, reports that business in ‘09 was the best so far for the two partners. Let’s hope that North II has better marks yet to make. From what I know, he is one heck of a nice approachable guy, and he’s a patient and attentive producer. His dad, Henry, would, no doubt, be proud as popcorn and lemonade.

Kudos: Kenneth Feld, who mined basic unadulterated gold from his Gold Unit (Boom-A-Ring) at Coney Island out under canvas. The best damn complete circus I’ve seen in years. Will it return? I'm not as hopeful as I was a few minutes ago.

Kudos: Guy Laliberte, founder, owner and “guide”of Cirque du Soleil, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, for his extraordinary (dare I say unprecedented) producing talents. He astonishes, challenges, inspires, and he is only 50-years-old! His new show OVO proves beyond a shadow of a peanut pitch that he fully understands and respects the power of top-drawer circus talent to sustain patronage. That, kids, is why the customers return in droves. Let the Cirque gang fuss and Frenchify over thematic mist, as long as they deliver the beef.

Kudos: John Pugh, for being John Pugh and for putting out a show that seems, from reports and reviews of his Cole Bros. Circus of Stars, to represent a swing back up the artistic ladder.

Kudos: Abigail Munn and David Hunt. Your promising new Circus Bella (right here in my own Oaktown backyard) rekindles the simpler charm of the old Pickle Family Circus. May you find a viable road to future success. We still await our own version of Big Apple Circus on the west coast.

Kudos: Philip William McKinley for his expert direction of Boom-A-Ring

Kudos: Rob Reich, arranger and conductor of the Circus Bella band, for proving what a thoroughly satisfying score five crack musicians can deliver.

Kudos: Circus Vargas for giving free tickets to the unemployed (up to four per family) in many of its Southern California dates.

Jeers! Kenneth Fled, for his unbelievable public indifference to the YouTube PETA video showing clear mistreatment of his elephants by circus hands. And for issuing a press release claiming the damning film footage was “misleadingly edited” but then, strangely, failing to reveal how.

Jeers! Big Apple Circus for refusing to state on its website that morning shows are cut in length, which left suckers like me who went to see Grandma “singing in the rain” out in the rain (outside the tent on Long Island). Inexcusable!

Jeers! Shrine Circus potentates, too those of you who continue your clumsy assault on circus entertainment with carnival tie-ins, obscenely long intermissions (up to an hour) pitching concessions and animal rides, and for your pitiful acquiesce to your own Shrine “clowns” in lieu of professional fun makers. Have you lost all respect for your once-glorious history?

Jeers! “Author” Ian Halperin for his tawdry hit-job on Cirque’s Guy Laliberte. A lot of people indulge in late night sexcapades. How many people can achieve what Laliberte has with Cirque du Soleil? From what the critics are writing, that’s what your book should have been about, and that’s probably why I won't bother to read it.

Tears: With sadness I report on the recent passing of Dothan, Alabama native Henry Edgar, who ran a community theatre company (once called Almost Broadway) and spent some years press agenting for, among others, the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. I got to know Henry through our correspondence over this blog and the many comments he contributed. I have no idea what Henry looked like, and I never heard his voice. He loved touring the midway of circus blogs, and he was such an affirmative early supporter of mine. In his teen years, Edgar interviewed famous people who came through his town. Later, he covered entertainment for the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia, interviewing a parade of greats including Ethel Merman and Dolly Parton. He also issued a glowing review of my first book, Behind the Big Top, many years before the community of blogging introduced us to each other.

We shared, I think, a similar sense about going and growing with the ever-changing flow of circus art. Here is what Henry e-mailed me not long after my blog was up and running:

“I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I bitched about the old-timers saying, ‘That’s nothing. You should have been around when the show had three rings of liberty horses and a 20 piece band and a 4-mile street parade, etc. Now, we’re the old-timers telling younger people, ‘That’s nothing, you should seen what it was like in the 50s and 60s!’ But we’ve worked to reach out old-timer status, and we deserve it!”

What an empty irretrievable loss I feel. I last heard from him in July, only two months before his passing on September 13, at age 65, when he shared with us his low regard for the Haperin book on Laliberte, a regard later shared by a Bloomberg reviewer.

After reading this afternoon an e-mail and obit I received from Daily Press editor Ernie Gates confirming Edgar’s death (which I suspected but had to search deep to locate), by coincidence my tape of the Ringling-Barnum 1951 score was playing. In motion was the "circus Serenade" spec. Down my face trickled tears for Henry as this I heard that season’s vocalist sing:

There will be no sorrow tomorrow
if you’re singing a happy song!

So long, Henry, up there on the Big Lot. Whenever the ‘51 Ringling spec is making its way around the hippodrome track of my mind and they’re singing that song, I’ll think of you, friend.

 12.8.2009 / reposted Jan 2014

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