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
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