Friday, June 25, 2010

Ringling at Coney: Glitzy Seaside Circus Shrewdly Powered by Sex, Fireworks, Clowns, Magic --- and a Few Good Acts

Circus Review: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Illuscination
Coney Island, New York
June 17, 7 PM

After a season of high circus art at Coney Island, back come the Feld fireworks. This gaudy bawdy grab bag suggests that last year’s artistically memorable opus did not sell enough tickets to convince the Feld of Felds to return with more of the same.

So we’re back to Feld 1A. To be sure, it’s on balance a very good variety show, riding high on stunning big box illusions spun by the masterful David DaVinci, much better than those over on Zing Zang Boom; on sly sexual overtones, novelty acts — some, barely off the drawing boards, clever clowning and the usual pyrotechnic boosters shots. Final set piece, wrapped in larger than life ribbons and bows, is a beaut.

Don’t go for perfection, that is, unless you’re willing to take it from a horse or a cat. The horse being, indeed, the star of this edition. This human-like marvel, from the Donnert Family, interacts amusingly with a clown trying to saddle the thing up or merely spoil it with a shawl ; the results are incredibly clever and very funny. Monte Carlo: Send this horse and that clown the gold, no questions asked.

The cats being those presented by the Panfilovs, who also produce a top-of-the-line quick costume change illusion number, lending more magic to the show's theme.

Comedy fairly sails along. They’ve got cool young Steve Caveagna of the Italian trio of comedy musicians. Sans conventional clown face, Steve sports a cool cropped porcupine hairdo and gets in the way at intervals, holding his own in a novel manner. Specially does he connect with a crowd when he rolls his sexy lower body. Audience goes wild.

On the distaff side, the ultra sultry Jamieleigh, wife and partner to DaVinci, wraps herself around his bod, which makes porcupine clown try even harder (no pun intended) to woo her away. That, I guess, is this year’s slim story line while it lasts, folks. We’re essentially back in Kenneth Feld country, where half-baked ideas flash hot one moment, are gone the next. Call it the sight-bite circus.

It’s got the goods more than half the time: That would be beguiling upside-down aerialist Francleib Rodrigues ambling between the loops this way and that, and then between two single traps, one rigged higher than the other, peaking his brief appearance with a nifty exchange between the two, his surprise connection tickling the crowd.

And that would be the Medeiros Troupe of twin iron jaw exponents, who infuse the genre with refreshing twists. And two masterful Kung Fu martial arts showman from China — Qin Gudjing and Sun Junjie, between whom steel rods (that may actually be steel rods) are turned into pretzels — around their necks. Better yet is their climax through a rotating circle of flaming swords.

But there’s still more, when the Caveagnas make a riotous spoof of the entire Chinese number. A double treat. These goof balls are a gas.

This being a Feldarama, you also get bargain basement forgettables. Maybe I came the wrong day, but I’m not making excuses for anybody.. So here goes: Okay, up the old inclined wire goes the motorbike with Medeiros passengers aboard, ready for the cling-on 360 degree turn. A dubious opening night hit, but if that’s all it takes to raise a village in Brooklyn, that’s good news for other second and third rate entries, like the Donnerts trying to juggle on horseback, and managing to show us how not to — I counted at least four errors.

Biggest embarrassment is the somewhat haggard lion trainer Brian McMillan holding high a long thin pole at the end of which rests an enticing edible, this evidently in order to get his charge of the moment to deliver. That, ladies and gentleman, marks a new low in Big Cage showmanship. And these incidents, if you look too closely, tend to give the production a certain mediocre stain.

The elephants don’t make a much better impression. A little too plain and lackluster for my tastes. Presided over by one Ramon Esqueda. Indeed, against the show’s sexier frames, the pachyderms looked almost out of place.

Back to the good: From Cuba with heart, a robust troupe of acrobats, the Salsations, score well on multiple Russia bars, including nifty exchanges. But when they return to cavort off springboards (the program’s finale display), the usual standard tricks they offer, assisted and/or saved by lifelines, means that you may also see, as I did, somebody dangling in mid air, and not gracefully. All of which left this silent witness silent. I prefer the non-marionette version of teeterboard.

It will be interesting to see, to the extent possible, how well Illuscination does at the ticket windows .Opening night was apparently not a sell out, though near full. Last year’s seats were packed. Upon my second visit to the first Big Bertha top in over fifty years, I gotta concede that this very square tent is way too square, so that in some seats, if you gaze straight ahead, you will not see the ring action at all, unlike virtually all other tent shows where the seats generally aim themselves around and at the ring. Which makes the idea of a tent setting not so attractive, and certainly not so intimate, as it might and should be.

Whatever I might say — not an easy show to get a critical handle on, nor did the music sound as satisfying this year as it did last — it has plenty to offer, and in matters of pacing and crisp clean act transitions — one seamlessly merging into the next, the direction is simply sensational. For its deft presentational efficiency alone, it’s worth a visit — that is, if you’re ready to overlook some marked down goods. Remember, when all else fails, Fourth of July is always just around the corner.

Overall rating (out of four stars possible): 3 stars


Anonymous said...

I wonder why no one has jumped in to offer an assortment of excuses, patch's and alibi's for this review, as was done with the review below? Possibly RBBB circus doesn't take it so personally, or they realize it isn't anything more then what it is?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, You are right. I don't see any alibis from the RBBB camp. I also saw both shows. I agree that KM had some issues with flow of the show. I also thought the pitch was an awful display, much like begging from the crowd. I don't agree with 3 stars for Gold and only 2 1/2 for KM, but I saw KM with tigers and fire. I felt the acts on KM were more audience friendly were I got sort of an arrogant "We are so much better then this" vibe from the gold show performers. The animal acts on KM were far stronger then RBBB in my opinion. But truly what does it matter? Both shows were making money and showing to people the day I saw them. Maybe KM needs to lighten up.