Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Morning Midway: Miss Minnie’s Wild Ride on Zing Zang Zoom

She called me, wanting to share her family’s thoughts, having just seen Ringling Bros. Circus down in Miami. The family would be Miss Minnie, second from right in the above photo with her husband, Brian, their 3-year-old son Noah, and Brian’s son and daughter by his first marriage, Taylor and Dwyer.

“Miss Minnie” is actually my niece, Lisa, daughter of my proud sister, Kathy, of Omaha. Some of you who fly or flew the friendly skies might recognize Lisa. Nobody was a better flight attendant than she. A few years ago, Lisa retired to raise her very first and only child, Noah (an experience that has brought new-found joy into her life), while hubby Bryan pilots the mighty United birds; they live in Ft. Lauderdale.

First of all, said Miss Minnie, no make that Lisa, “I’d like to hear your thoughts, Uncle David.”

Oh no. Not so easy. I politely deferred to a fresh look at the circus: “I do not want to influence your reactions in any way.” She hadn’t read my review and we’ve not talked about anything Ringling in quite a while. "Okay," said Lisa “first, the good things,” and she thought. “I loved being there at the circus.” She thoroughly enjoyed the pre show all-access party (“great), where Mr. Gravity entertained her, Noah, Captain United and Dwyer. (Taylor was not able to join them.)

Lisa mostly wanted to share with me particular acts that one or another or all of them liked: “We missed the motorbikes a lot,” she said. “I loved the guys on the two wheels.” Evidently, this act was a first for her. They enjoyed the Russian swings, the Asians on the two swinging planks. The family pilot liked the duo working from the fabrics. Lisa enjoyed seeing the elephants, but (read on) ...

After it was all over, Noah said “let’s go back to the circus!”

Okay, onto what she didn’t like, which in a way, thinking back, struck me as more significant than what she did. Mind you, I am still mum with Miss Minnie here, hearing her out.

First she addressed the production concepts: “Too song and dancy,” said she, “too much girls and dancing.” She wanted more circus in the circus.

Here comes her first of two major criticisms: Music. “Relentless,” she complained, and it did feel like a complaint. “Fast, fast ... no variety, no let up. Constant,” However, she does report all of them leaving the show singing the very catchy title song. Lisa feels that if the music on balance was better — like in times past when the band moved back and forth between more distinctly different moods - the show would have been better.

A few more regrets. Our Floridian wished there were more clowns. And where were the animals, she wondered? Then she thought. Yes, they were there. But why weren’t the elephants costumed? She has fond memories of pachyderms in exotic blankets and frills; the bare skinned mammoths struck her as circus-incomplete. She spoke of the ringmaster. “He was very young; I guess he was okay,” but she missed the authority and bombast of a more customary orator in red. Indeed, she had hoped for more “traditional” elements.

Lisa's second great qualm: The ending. “All of a sudden” They looked at each other: “It’s over? That’s it? ... You just ended? ... Weird.” She missed a bigger finale on parade. She guessed that only one third of the company came out for final bows; that's a surprise to me --- I thought they all did.

Now, here’s a surprise: They wished the show was only one ring! Too difficult trying to take in multiple acts at the same time. Have we here a Ringling renaissance?

How would Minnie of the moment rate the show, A to F or 10 to 1? She mulled it over. “I’d give it a 7” she answered.

At this point, my listening to Lisa concluded. Now we engaged in a discussion.

I told her how surprised I was that she had not discussed any of the illusions, especially given that this edition was built around them. Reminded of this, Lisa said that she found two of them “stunning,” but overall she used words “obvious” and “standard” to describe them.

She reiterated her two biggest complaints: music and the unsatisfyingly brief finale.

As for the redundant music (I'm in strong agreement with her on this) somebody should listen to an old Merle Evans tape to study about contrasting moods. About drum rolls and fanfares.

What to say? For one thing, people still go to circuses to see amazing things done by performers, rather than to watch line dancers from Vegas. Zing’s hyperactive production stressing flash over focused artistry is what I call Feldian.

Lisa asked me out of curiosity about other types of animals that appear with circuses. I mentioned the demise of monkeys and seals and bears.

We talked about the high wire troupe using mechanics. She totally agreed: “There were wires all over the place.” She would have preferred a pad on the ground rather than the lifelines. She said the wires make her wonder if they are actually helping the performer.

How many people were there? “It was packed,” she said.

Okay, enough from me. I am always interested in speaking to friends and kin who might have been to a circus to get their take. Most surprising to me is the pull of the motorcycles in the big cage, although it shouldn’t be. Obviously, the producers keep bringing this thrill item back because it delivers big.

Onward to your next circus ride, Miss Minnie & Co.! Perhaps, sometime soon, co-pilot Noah will favor us with us his favorite acts — or tastiest treats and twirly things that glow in the dark recommendations.


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