Holiday Look Backs, this from 2010
Circus Review: Kelly Miller Circus
Brewster, New York
June 16, 4:30 PM
Because a Ringling produced it, naturally, some of us will wonder, how good might it be? The welcome news here is that in promising evidence from John Ringling North II are some admirable producing inclinations, though for the most part they exceed the less than stellar results brought to bear.
This year’s respectable opus is particularly shy on air power — not so unusual for a circus in the modern era — all except for a gal from Aussie named Nikita who turns in a terrific single trap workout, keeping us well engaged with breathless swings, drops and angular twists that mark her vigorous attack. She has the reckless air that we see too little of these days. Well, she can afford to: you’ve got to overlook a very conspicuous mechanic (it could have been subtler), but then again, most circus crowds today are routinely putting up with these tell tale signs of contemporary cowardice. That said, she’s an asset, and a valid “first time in America” import from North.
Down dishing loads of charm over the sawdust is the very young Adrian Poema, Jr., a kid of true star power who captures the ring instantly and never loses our amused attention. He gives his family’s reasonably good risley display world class pizzaz, which makes him something of a wasted asset; why this perky crowd pleaser was not more comprehensively integrated into the entire program to maximize his and its impact is indicative of an overall laxity in direction.
Other on-the-ground pleasures number a charming camel “silk road” caravan managed by Mike and Carolyn Rice and exotically embellished with dancing gals, all of which casts a certain little spell; and there's Armando Loyal’s gracious handling of three nicely talented elephants, each topped by a North Starlet. Roxie Montana presents a fairly routine dog and pony display, routine until a doggie dude bolts off a pedestal back onto a cantering pony to resume his ride round the ring. Great bit. Trouble is, the act on balance is just too similar to the one hosted earlier by Natalie Cainan, so that we get a feeling of being routed in reverse rather than forward. Been there done that is not the feeling you want at a circus show
In more fundamental matters, act transitions are sloppy; pacing is vague, and the show seems oddly structured. It should be noted that opening and closing segments handled, respectively, by Casey McCoy with tigers and Brian LaPalme with fire, were both no-shows at the Brewster matinee.
Had the missing book ends been there, this review might read slightly differently. Still, it’s a show in need of less redundancy and a more cohesive pulse. North will have to import a sharper directorial hand if he wishes to matriculate beyond Oklahoma ordinary. And he will certainly have to break some nasty Hugo habits that dog the performance, such as allowing a fellow to treat a routine Peterson Peanut pitch as a matter of life and death, staging a mock one minute count down while exhorting the crowd to buy buy buy -- before it's too late!!!! About as subtle as a diesel truck blasting through an afternoon tea picnic, by far the most offensive example of promotional hysteria I’ve yet witnessed.
To the company’s credit, they’ve spared the ring — or did the day I saw the show — a carnival invasion at intermission. Animal rides are kept outside the tent.
A first half production closer themed around fifties culture and music creates a charming context for a series of so-so acts, thanks to on-point scoring favoring rock and roll from the era, and to the number’s zany highpoint, rolla bolla artist Fridman Torales mimicking Elvis Pressley to the hilt. But the hula hoop segment is fairly dreary, and clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs work a strained waiter routine, fighting over a female patron. Their youthfully energetic work, bearing clearly the Feld school of clowning, which places intense acrobatics over character, is so slapstick heavy that it can wear thin fast. Alas, they proved a minor disappointment at this show.
Copeland and Combs apparently possess the brains for comedic invention away from repetitive mug slaps, much more of which would be welcome here. They work a delightfully creative mini clown walkaround, and at least one item across their café table shenanigans is laugh-out-loud funny. One guy stuffs the other’s mouth with a wash cloth, and the silenced mouth stoops down to slavishly wipe the table clean. Very funny stuff. They need more of this, less of the other. Nor was their exterminator gag, in theory a fine idea, amply mined
Another moderate pleasure is juggler Rual Olivares, who wins audience affection with a surprisingly diversified repertoire and his naturally warm connection to a crowd. He’s a paunchy fellow who could bolster his charisma by shedding say half his poundage. Then again, the ordinary guy look he sports, intended or not, may work in his favor.
Best of the production enhancements by far is the two person musical department of Captain Lucky Eddie Straeffer and Vickie Straeffer, he on drums, she at the electronic/CD board. They follow the show with effective relevance every act of the way, and they deserve a better sound system delivery. At times they make things sound as if there’s a small live band inside the tent.
Cleanly, classical attired ringmaster John moss has too many duties (sponsor acknowledgments to web sitting) to cut any kind of a consistent persona, and his exchanges with the performers seem more gratuitous than entertaining. Also listed as the director, clearly he does not run a tight ship.
Before a responsive near full house in Brewster, Kelly Miller delivered a good enough show for the friendly ticket prices ($14 general adult admission). However, if the producer bearing the most famous name in American circus history really wishes to prove his Ringling blood, he’s got his work cut out for him. It’s not an easy business. At the moment, having notably lasted four seasons under the big top, the nephew of legendary John Ringling North is maybe half way there. Well out of Baraboo, but far from Sarasota.
Overall rating (out of four stars tops): 2-1/2 stars
[photo from Rick Purdue at www.flickr.com/photos/partridgeroad/4546065484/]