Clown for a New Day

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mired in Sub-prime Talent Sans Direction, Cole Bros Circus of Stars Slides Deeper into Circus-Carnival Land


Circus Review: Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars
North Brunswick
May 20, 4:30 PM

NEW JERSEY - Sad to see, and even sadder to report (I did not want to write this review) that John Pugh’s circus is taking the lower carny-circus road. That’s what, unfortunately, I saw with about maybe 150-200 other people on a rainy day in New Jersey. This year’s effort is starkly inferior to the last Cole show I caught, in 2005, a far more polished presentation, even though that outing, too, had the kids riding ponies in the ring — among other concessions — before and during intermission. This time around, however, the entire program looks more ragged, more haphazardly formed.

Not to linger in the key of regret any more than need be. First, the good news. Believe everything you’ve heard about the tiger act of Germany’s Judit and Juergen Nerger. It’s a beaut and a wonderful departure from the norm, so fluidly crafted, so hauntingly scored. To whomever arranged the music — one of, if not the best scored wild animal acts I have ever seen — Kudos! A rare achievement in big cage art.

In fact, more good news, scoring throughout the entire program is generally excellent, credit musical director Leigh Ketchum for his excitingly up-to-date charts. As for those of you who long for “Entrance Gladiators” and all the other various 75-year-old circus standards, get over it, kids. This is not the year 1933. I suggest moving your clocks ahead by a century.

Staying on our high, another memorable moment is a finely arranged aerial ballet which fills up the rectangular performance area beautifully. So picture perfect. Follow this with the delightful poodles handled by the Abuhadba family (one dressed as Superdog), and there you have the high points.

Now, if you want your idyllic circus memories left unspoiled, I suggest you exit here.


It’s a brawny big top, and not a very toned one at that. So brawny that a huge, not very in-tune forklift serves in lieu of ordinary roustabouts to bring in the tigers in their cages to the edge of the big cage, and later to haul in the rickety globe of death, making it sound like tear down has already begun. Call this the hydraulic edition. Just another time-consuming eyesore that makes this one of the more disjointed and ill-directed circuses you are likely to see in a long long while.

Standard so-so staples may please the average patron: The elephants are as big as ever, and they do almost enough to earn minimum wage. About adequate are both Laura Herriott’s assorted menagerie and a globe of death motorbike act hardly noteworthy by today’s dreary diesel standards. Hardly adequate are the trying Flying Ponces, who do practically nothing, although I enjoyed the jazzy music. Rounding out the lineup, there’s a cannon shot by Jose Bermudez, and the proficient work of Russian equilibrist Lana, both delivering the goods. Another act listed in the program that I can’t recall seeing was Gelson & Company.

Instantly forgettable are the intensely silly clowns who go by the name of Bermudez Family.. They were easily upstaged by a crazy car that breaks apart at the center. Very funny. Comic relief from Detroit.

Show started a half hour late, owing to elephants rides, dull inexplicable dead spots, etc., during which course I spotted two clowns loitering aimlessly about the tent, doing just what, I could never quite figure. And why, may I ask, has Cole joined a number of other shows, including Ringling-Barnum, that preface the performance with the National Anthem? Are they so insecure these days, so desperate for public acceptance that they have to flaunt the flag? Yes, wrap it all up in God and Patriotism, make it look like a sacred holiday, and nobody will dare complain.

Show’s most prominent figure is often in-our-faces ringmaster Chris Connors. Only one act into the program and he is already asking us, “So ... how are you enjoying the show so far?” After the next act, he is back at us, this time pitching glow-in-the-dark sticks.

Not to prolong the pain, wrapping up, here is what I think John Pugh needs to do:

1. Limit Connors to about 100 words max per show.

2. Fire the clowns but keep the funny car.

3. Use the forklift to pitch the rides — and itself — out onto the midway where they belong.

4. Hire a professional director from outside the circus community.

5. Retain music man Ketchum

6. Pray for artistic redemption.

Rapping out, this is exactly what I think John Pugh will not do. After all, he runs a successful circus. I do not.

Overall rating (out of 4 stars tops): 2 stars

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tiger act trained 2002-2003 at Hawthorn winter quarters, Richmond Ill. by Luis and Marcia Palacio.

Surprised you were so turned off by National Anthem. I think it should be played more often.

Anonymous said...

Whew, I'm glad to see this review. Every time I see you praising Cole I wonder "is there a whole other Cole Bros from the one I saw?". The show, to me, has the look of a scrap metal yard, from the chipped paint boxes that hapzardly form the perimeter of the performing area, to the ricketty globe you mentioned and the forklift.
What is Pugh's insistence with forgoing rings in favor of this set-up?
That tiger act must cost a fortune every week, so why put it in this shabby setting? One reason Big Apple and the European shows are so stunning is the perfectly rich interiors. And this is America's biggest tent show? How embarrassing.
You're right about the clowns. What the hell are they doing out there? It's not funny, whatever it is.
I really have to wonder at the mentality of producers like this. They are not ignorant people. They have seen the great circuses, eaten at fine restaurants, gone to theatres. Don't they ever want to emulate what they've seen? Don't they ever think "I'd like to do something like that with my own show?" It's a lazy, sloppy, don't give damn attitude that, frankly pisses me off.
I wonder what a European performer fresh from the gorgeous big tops of Europe, drenched in colored lights, velvet curtains and sawdust think when they perform in a slop fest like this. The most skilled, lavishly costumed act would look lost in this arena.
I'm glad to see you've taken of your rose colored Pugh glasses. Yes, he manages to keep this on the road and books a few decent acts, but look what he does with them!

Michel Newton-Brown said...

No Ring Mistress this year. Something Van Rose was her name. A highlight for me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,
We should mention that although the act was indeed trained by Luis and Marcia Palacio, it was Wade Burck who instructed the Nerger's on the presentation of the act, in fact went with them to make their opening date's in Topeka Ks and Indianapolis Ind. before returning back to Richmond and his duties as House trainer/elephant superintendent.

Anonymous said...

And that should be mentioned because...??????????

Showbiz David said...

Credit well deserved, I would think, for such a finely crafted act.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,
Because?????????? As the Palacios were mentioned, Mr. Burck's aid is the complete history of the act. Story is that Hawthorn had originally thought to hire a female trainer, but as she didn't seem capable, the East German's were brought in as last minute presenters.

Anonymous said...

Interesting assessment, as the female trainer had worked 13 MIXED animals, tigers, lionesses, leopards, bears, etc. three years prior. It was only one person's opinion that she was incapable of handling another act of 13. I suspect it had little to do with ability to handle the tigers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,
Maybe you are right. Maybe she didn't have a very capable assistant to actually handle the animals, as she did in said act 3 years prior?

Anonymous said...

Wade as an annonymous - priceless

By the way, Dave, get yourself a tripod for clearer pictures

Anonymous said...

on a different topic - David, have you seen this?

Korean flying act at Monte Carlo TWO triples in a row

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPWJc8sLhjo&feature=player_embedded

Showbiz David said...

yeah, those pics of mine are a blurry challenge. sorry, folks. put 'em there for historical illustration.

Wade G. Burck said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

During the act she worked three years prior, the 'assistant' was a Moroccan fellow who moved some props in the back of the cage, and had never been in the arena before. How exactly did he "handle the animals"? Quite a puzzle.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,
That being the case, I suggest whom ever "she" is would have been advised to retain the services of said "Moroccan" a while longer, and got him an American Work Vista, because that is exactly why it is claimed that there need's to be two people in the cage with this act instead of the standard one. I have heard it said that the second person is only there to "move some props in the back of the cage." I should think; ideal situation for someone who need's help.

Anonymous said...

OK, then Wade is not an anonymous, just someone who posted 2 minutes before anoymous. I'm sure it's very possible that they both were sitting at the computer and posting to this blog at almost the exact minute. Stranger things have happened

Wade G. Burck said...

Showbiz,
For the record this is Wade Burck. Which anonymous is concerned with anonymous, the anonymous who posted the first statement or the anonymous who responded to it? I responded to Jeff Swanson, and agreed with Lane, David, and Alan. That's it.

Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

OK, guys (gals, whomever) I can see this is starting to get a little edgy (what a polite word for nasty). My apologies to Jeff for posting a comment that bordered on a personal attack, even though with a tip of the hat to Jeff. It's not my intent to offend anyone personally. I also thank Wade and others for their positive feedback. Trust me, I am in the middle of all this, and the heat is rising. I do stand by my comment that Wade deserves credit for whatever hand he played in a marvelously staged tiger act. There are other incoming comments I will likely not post because they are pushing us ever so close to a bloody wrestling match.

Anonymous said...

A question for you David. Does the criteria you use when reviewing a show factor in ticket prices? A Cirque show has a much higher budget for talent then say, Kelly-Miller or Cole. Not saying you should or shouldn't. Just curious.

Ken

Showbiz David said...

Fair question, Ken. I am well aware of how some shows bring circus to middle and lower class families at fair bargain prices, even though, as I have learned, those families can still end up spending a lot more than they anticipated. And even feeling a bit burned. I have praised the Felds for offering tickets for as little as five and ten dollars. I paid only ten bucks to see Boom-A-Ring at Coney, which I loved.

When we end up with a virtual carnival & circus party-bizarre, almost formless, some good acts, rides and pitches and long intermissions, it almost becomes pointless for me to even take on the task of trying to review such an animal. Not that this form does not have value to those who patronize it. Increasingly, I am veering away from the idea of reviewing such an entity.

My criteria is essentially artistic, combining both the collective strengths of performers as I view them and the overall production values (which I imagine I place a lot more emphasis on than others). I think John Pugh is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet; he granted me a great interview some years back for my last book, so I did not like writing the review I did. However, not to would have been unfair to others shows. Yes, money does buy a bigger slice of world class talent; even then, I gave only 2 stars to Cirque’s Corteo. Bottom line: I try to review each circus on its own terms-merits-drawbacks, etc.

That having been said, I am well aware that my opinions are my own, based on my own artistic value system, and that the view of others may be equally or more valid.

Wade G. Burck said...

Ken,
What the heck does ticket price have to do with anything!!!!! Charging a big price(big compared to what a movie, ball game, rodeo, concert) only works if the people will pay for it. They will pay for it if they get value for their dollar like cirque gives them which is why cirque can charge the big bucks. If they don't get the value for their money, they won't buy a ticket no matter how little it costs. Why doesn't KM or Cole charge what cirque does? Maybe because nobody would buy a ticket? Why doesn't KM and Cole have a high dollar cast? Because they can't charge a high dollar price for their show? Why can't they charge a high dollar price for their show? I thing we all know the answer to that. It's the opposite reason cirque can.
What difference does it make what the cost of a ticket is in reviewing how good a show i?

Wade Burck

Anonymous said...

Good morning David and Wade,
Thanks for responding to my question and David thanks for the clarification.
Wade,
Music was a big part of my life. Part of my musical experience involved judging marching band competitions. To qualify as an adjudicator I attended many training sessions. Many of these sessions/seminars focused on understanding why something is judged better then something else. At one seminar the presenter put 3 hats on the table in front of him. One, a woman's hat from the 30's or 40's, beige in color with sequins and an ostrich feather. The second was a type of headware typically worn by marching bands, blue in color with a large feathered plume. The third was a cowboy hat. He then asked “What's the best hat?” As you would expect he got 3 different answers. However when he defined the criteria for judging the best hat (1. It must be be beige. 2. It must have sequins. 3.It must have a feather of some type.), everyone agreed that the first hat was the best hat. What I'm trying to say is that whenever we judge something fantastic, mediocre, terrible or anything inbetween we are arriving at that conclusion based on a set of pre-defined criteria. What I was asking David was if ticket prices was part of his criteria. So, to answer your question, “What the heck does ticket price have to do with anything!!!!! “, maybe nothing, maybe everything.

Ken

Showbiz David said...

Ken, having given your interesting ticket price question further thought, it seems to me that, whatever price I pay, I still sit down in my seat trying to view the ring as a blank slate, trying to be open to what appears on, above and around it, regardless of the price; I believe there are, for example, some things any show no matter the ticket price can do as well as any other, such as pacing, act transitions, variety of action. I can potentially be very moved by a swiftly paced show of mid-level skills, and put off by one that may contain a couple of world class acts yet overall is not well put together and presented, but chopped up by pitches, dead spots, etc. Which is why I place almost equal value on the direction (music, pacing, lights, announcing) as I do on the acts.

And then there are the intangibles of individual taste, yet another subliminal influence!

Wade G. Burck said...

Ken,
Good point except you can achieve greatness with nothing while as we have experienced recently company's "too big to fail" collapsed.
Here was my reasoning in asking “What the heck does ticket price have to do with anything!!!!! “ The world of show horses(not Cavalia, the other kind) is in many respects like the circus, with one big important factor. In judging a horse show, there is a criteria/standard placed in advance. Some people can afford a 10,000 custom silvered saddle, and some people can only afford a 1,500 dollar factory silvered saddle, and it's obvious which is which. That's life. Judge's are instructed to look past, don't take into consideration "tack", except assuring that it is officially sanctioned, when judging the performance of the horse and rider, deciding who best meets the criteria and standard of the association's rule book. I have never known of anybody, my self included who was not awarded fairly, and either won or lost based on the performance of horse and rider that day. But a very common "alibi" for a poor performance often heard back in the stable is "the judges only gave Grand Champion to he/she because he/she's father could afford to buy them a 10,000 dollar custom silvered saddle, and I had to use my 1,500 dollar factory silvered saddle, which is all my father can afford. That's not fair!!!!" It's not fair, because it is a lame alibi for ineptitude in the training barn and later in the performance ring. It is also an equally lame alibi for the crap that is seen in the circus ring today.

Wade Burck

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

Well Dave, I have been lured into reading your blog again by friends telling me "You gotta go read the back and forth between Wade and Pat on that Showbiz blog"

Kudos... you booked a winning act this week....HAHA


I haven't seen Cole this year so I am gonna wait to comment on the review. I however HAVE seen the cat act. I am surprised at your stroking of it. And here is why...
You are old enough to not be impressed by the amount of cats, as you surely saw plenty of cat acts when anything less then 13 was scoffed at. And the only thing unusual or new (kinda) is the cake pedestals, which times I have seen the act, were 4 cats hanging off stretch bars. That is not a knock on the Nergers, they didn't train the act, but I think the idea was for the cats to stand up to the bars and the mark was missed. There are two people, which isn't new or different. alot of acts over seas have a pretty girl in arena to "sell" the act and a guy pushing the cats around to her...lol...think "good cop bad cop"

I will hopefully get to see Cole in the next few weeks. Question is...When are you coming back to see Kelly Miller? I feel you robbed us of at least half a star in your review from last year, but you did miss out on the fire production leading into finale, and of course my act (easily worth 2 stars on its own...haha) So come on back and give it another go. If you like I will spring for a bad of Peterson's Nuts and a program...

Showbiz David said...

we have a 25th comment ... have we a twenty sixth? Twenty sixth once! ... twenty sixth twice! ... twenty sixth going !?!?!? ...

Wade G. Burck said...

Showbiz,
I'll bid at 27. I will reiterate again for Casey, as I checked and you didn't delete my identifying myself and he must have missed it, "it isn't me Pal!!!!"
I will also suggest Casey is delusional at seeking 2 stars for his act. An act need's at least 13 animals to even be considered for the 2 star acknowledgement, anything less is simply a one star. It moves to more stars depending on the difficulty and beauty of the presented behaviors as well as the beauty of the presenter presenting.

Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

I think i am actually learning something here, or being coerced. Number of animals as a factor? Yes, impressive, but I still would be, sorry, folks, inclined to judge the act on its own merits. Trouble is, I am not a statistician, and might be a lousy judge for juggling competitions, where number of clubs, hoops, etc., do and must count.
OOPS, I just bid 28! Have we a TWENTY NINE?!?

Wade G. Burck said...

Show biz,
Wouldn't number of animals be as important as a triple or a quadruple in evaluation?

Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

it would influence me, i suppose, the mastery to handle a # of animals. but still a very good act with fewer animals might be better to my eyes than one that comes off messy and rambling -- or, too much furniture moving, a la trevor bale.

charlie bauman is a fine example of your argument -- what a magnificent tableaux he created with the rotating ball in the center while the band played shangrala. a truly great ring moment.

Wade G. Burck said...

Show biz,
There you go. I should think a triple thrown to perfection would rate more stars then a sloppy quad. I should also think a small act(in my mind "small" is 8 animals) trained and presented to perfection would rate more stars then a large act of nothing.

Wade Burck

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

Wade,
What if a guy had 1 tiger, but it could do a back flip on it's hind legs? What would that rate? From you? Then the public...

Anonymous said...

Well, there's also the issue with large acts where the animals are seated around the whole arena and actually block the view of the act. Not a problem in big venues where you look down on the acts, but at eye level, or close, I think a smaller number (6-8) is better.
I'd like to see something unusual, like the russian with the tigers on mirrored rolling globes or the Russians whith the lions jumping from one cylander to the next with the trainer on it's back (or thats the gist anyway). Both those acts have few cats, but are something more unique than most.

Wade G. Burck said...

Casey,
Fantasies in the mind don't rate anyplace. But if they did, a tiger singing the National Anthem at next years Super Bowl, would probably rate higher then a hind leg back flip, with me as well as the folks fortunate enough to get a ticket.

Anonymous,
If you knew how they were trained to roll the mirrored balls, I don't think you would want to ever see it. As for "trainer on the back of lion" and jumping you are correct that is the "gist," if you watch it closely.
Seeing through "large numbers" is kinda like watching a pro football game or a Pop Warner game. Looking through "large numbers" may be less of a factor at a Pop Warner game.

Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

it's quarter to two,
there's no one in this post except me and -- who?
anonymous writes
another one bites,
still, there's more to unload,
so make it one for -- whomever,
and one more for the road

Anonymous said...

Wade, I know you're heading out of country, so you may not see this, but given your statement about the tigers on rolling globes, do you supose an act like that could be trained by less dubious means? I don't doubt your statement though - every time I see a spectaclar and unique East European animal act, I later hear that the ethics involved in it's training leave a lot to be desired. This seems to be the case from dogs to elephants. It's dissapointing to find out that the gaffs behind the training cancel out appreciating the end result.

Wade G. Burck said...

Anonymous,
An animals physical structure dictates what it can be taught to do "on command" not how "intelligent" it is, or who is training it. The balls in question were remote controlled, stop, started, turned manually. The tigers just went along for the ride. No different then the balls and barrels that we have seen rolled ad nausem through the ages. Just with a touch of smoke and mirrors added. As John Milton Herriott is quoted as saying, "it`s all been done before." Oten times in an effort to make it "appear" different the boundary of ethic`s is crossed over. That is why I feel it is important to educate the public to what they are or are not seeing. The less they insist on something, the less abuse will occur in an effort to produce that.

Wade Burck

P.S. Mexico is wonderful, by the way!

Showbiz David said...

For further discussion of tiger training techniques, etc, aimed at Wade, please refer to his blog; you can find a link to it on your right.

Interesting comments, but I think this post has reached its limit in that respect.

Other comments re: my review of Cole Bros. are more than welcome.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The circus was okay, mediocre at best. The concessions were terribly overpriced and the circus staff, the people who are there to sell tickets and make drinks, were extremely rude and unfriendly. Some could barely speak and understand English with their condescending attitudes. keep your money and go elsewhere, someplace where the staff isnt so rude, maybe Ringing Bros. Oh, and someone should tell the guy whos supposed to be fixing food and/or taking orders, to get off of the phone and actually greet and serve customers. This was our first Cole Bros experience in Conyers, Georgia, and we won't be back.