Baraboo on Parade!

Baraboo on Parade!
Down Fourth Street on Saurday, the fifth annual circus celebration and big top parade. Photo by Todd Krysiak, Baraboo News Republic

Monday, October 31, 2011

Kelly Miller 2012 Pushes Nerve Factor Under New, Bigger Big Top: Pirates, Knife Jugglers, Tigers & Slide for Lifers Pace Lineup


John Ringling North II takes in a performance of the show during the 2011 season. How deep might he go into creative producing?

Knife juggling, gaucho dancing, wild animals in control, pirates on the lose, the "slide for life" and unprotected single trap daring-do promise, on paper, to up the nerve factor at next year's Kelly Miller Circus. Show is now in its Hugo barns, already prepping for the 2012 tour, expected to hit the grass -- or mud -- come February. This I infer from advance information sent my way courtesy of show's general manager Jim Royal. Thank you, Jim.

John Ringling North II's pet circus will sport a brand new big top next season, with "a completely different look," says Royal -- this one designed out of San Francisco by North's designing daughter Katherine, who operates Northbrook Design. As viewed in a photo, tent looks more spacious and roomy.

If the lineup looks a little slim and somewhat redundant on paper, yet the impact might be in the attack, and Kelly Miller requires of its returning performers new routines and novel twists. For example, long-time K-M juggler Raul Oliveras will be spinning objects through a new black light segment, as well as reprising his secondary stint, wind-up dog "Pinky," a perennial favorite with sponsors, according to Royal.

Armando Loyal signed to sustain his fine hold over three elephants. Five tigers from the former Casey McCoy act will be working a revamped repertoire to be hosted by Ryan Easley, marking his second season in the big cage. Show's central production splash in which a number of turns are cast is a pirate themed romp slated to feature knife juggling from Julia and Deya Rosales (new to the show), a slide for life, ensemble dancing and the five North Starlets. Carolyn Rice has a new dog act ready to go; the dogs will enter the tent on the SS "Salty Sea Dog." Sara Greene and Delena Fusco are crafting a cradle turn.

New faces also include smooth single trap diva Rebecca Ostroff, who appeared in the film Water for Elephants, the credit a natural talking point for the show's PR attack. Also new to the North ring will be the Fusco family's seven-person gaucho act. Clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs are developing all-new entrees and walkarounds.

Production flourishes may add additional excitement. Norbert Fusco is adding dance steps to the aerial Starlets, while Carolyn Rice will choreograph for husband Mike's camel carousel, to which zebras have been added.

These various flourishes suggest a creative producer at work.

Although North's old buddie and musician from Ringling days, Captain "Lucky Eddie" Straeffer and his wife Vickie will be out next season on personal matters, the pattern of scoring which they established, tape recordings augmented by drums and percussion, will be followed, says Royal.

If there is detectable weakness here, it would seem to be a lack of acrobatic arts -- those power drives that set the human body into spinning whirling motion.

The impact of any performance, of course, rides as much on how everything is put together, fancied up in lights and costumes, packaged, scored, and paced -- as it does on a raw assemblage of performers. Exactly how John Ringling North II pulls his goodies out of the hat may well spell the difference between also-ran and take-note.

Optimistically, I consider North's personal imprint a promising work in progress.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gotham Going Gaga Over Big Apple Circus "Dream Big" ... Daily News ... NY Post ... TheatreMania Issue Affirming Kudos

Update, 10/25, 7:03 AM PST: More boffo reviews, some bordering on raves, are pouring off Gotham presses, from NY Daily News and Theatre Mania, the latter declaring it "a treasure trove of eye candy and entertainment for people of any age." Show looks to be richly stocked with top talent, captivating costumes, and inventive set pieces.

Photo by Bertrand Guay/Big Apple Circus

Here are some highlights from a socko 3- star review by Elisabeth Vincentelli in The New York Post:

Dream Big may be its most eye-popping production yet, thanks to director/choreographer Renaud Doucet and set/costume designer André Barbe, both of whom have extensive experience in opera.

The concept this time around is that an “imagination machine” allows people to dream up the show’s act. Mainly this is an excuse to have everybody cavort in colorful, downright nutty outfits. Many look straight out of a Tim Burton movie: Russian juggler Dmitry Chernov has an Edward Scissorhands vibe, and China’s Shandong Acrobats look like extras from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.'"

Even the animal routines have a twist. Horses prancing around are fairly common, but when was the last time you saw an African porcupine, a Vietnamese potbellied pig and a capybara do tricks? The last gets the show’s biggest laugh, which involves the Taio Cruz hit “Dynamite.”

End of excerpt.

I predict those quirky animals will draw lively press and word of mouth. The tent should fill up nicely.

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/theater/tent_up_creativity_jest_right_for_quxegyt5NOYKwxMN3cqQaL#ixzz1blCi6XeW

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sunday Morning with Krisnamurti: A Living Spirit Fluidly Impermanent

"The search for permanency is the ever-lasting cry of self fulfillment; but the self can never fulfill, the self is impermanent, and that in which it fulfills must also be impermanent. Self-continuity is decay; in it there is no transforming element nor the breadth of the new. The self must end for the new to be. The self is the idea, the pattern, the bundle of memories; and each fulfillment is the further continuity of idea, of experience. Experience is always conditioning; the experiencer is ever separating and differentiating himself from experience. So there must be freedom from experience, from the desire to experience. Fulfillment is the way of covering up inward poverty, emptiness, and in fulfillment there is sorrow and pain."

Sunday Morning with William C. Coup: Off the Train on a Sunday for a Feast of Food and Music

Some runs, however, were especially pleasant. For example, I recall one Sunday run, in the 1870s, of three hundred miles across an Indian reservation between a town in Kansas and another in Southern Texas. The day was beautiful ... Towards noon we halted and erected cooking tents and stables. The horses and animals were looked after and a dinner was cooked by the attaches. After dinner they formed congenial knots and strolled around while the "hash slingers" washed the dishers and the men once more loaded up. We carried at that time an excellent troupe of jubilee singers, and they burst into song, alternating their quaint camp-meeting songs with others in which the majority of the attaches could join. The band, too, caught the infection and produced their instruments and we enjoyed a vocal and instrumental feast. Just at dusk, before starting for the night's run, the Jubes sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to the full accompaniment of the band and with a refrain swelled by everyone able to sing. The rolling prairie, the beautiful trees, the perfect weather, the joyous spirits of every one present, the melodious voices of the Jubilee singers, and the grand strains produced by thirty skilled musicians, combined to produce music such as man seldom hears.

-- from his book, Sawdust and Spangles, 1901. Coup was one of America's greatest big top tycoons, the man who, likely more than any other, put the circus on rails and gave it three rings.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sneak Peak Inside the Changing Circus: Feld Legal Takes on Circus Claiming Not "Greatest" but "Happiest" title

Can You Be Happy Without Being Great?

Back in the year 1969, when America's sights were set on a moon landing, one U.S. circus for a spell claimed an imminent tour of the entire universe. Greatness was not its mantra; Happiness was. It declared itself "The Happiest Show on Any Earth."

Soon after, from the Greatest Show on Earth (aka Ringling-Barnum) came an icy letter to the owner of the Happiest Show on Any Earth, in essence claiming trademark infringement on its world famous slogan, and demanding the immediate removal of all such references in the happier circus's advertising materials.

The recipient of the Ringling directive, himself a hothead noted for bluster, quickly retreated from his far-flung allusions to spreading joy far beyond planet Earth alone.**

The show?


** Hint: Worlds reachable by telephone.

The journey is universal, from the dawn of Circus
to a thousand years from now in a distant galaxy.
The details are local.
The details are you.

NPR-NY Wanted Me For A Moment in Time ... A Curious Tale of Deceptive Solicitation

This is one if not for the books, for my book. One day, when I write about my adventures through circus worlds near and far, and through publishing houses, this one will deserve a good cameo.

You who may tune in this Friday to Soundcheck on W-NYC (The New York NPR affiliate) will listen to a program about circus music, but you will not hear me participate as I looked forward to, having been led to believe it would be by one of the program's associate producers, Kattie Bishop. "I'm wondering if you might be up for doing a segment on modern-day circus music with us," she wrote in an e-mail.

A few days later we talked. Her questions, though somewhat ill-founded, were stimulating. It sounded good, I said yes, and she said that the first half hour would be spent talking to some windjammers, the second with me.

It would take place fairly soon and I'd be notified. About a week later, I e-mailed her, seeking an update, in order to be around for the interview. She e-mailed back the next day. "We're only going to have time to talk to two guests, the editor of Spectacle Magazine ... and Janet Davis, a professor of American studies who specializes in the history of circus music."

How odd. Just like that? How did I feel? For one thing, led on. In all my previous experience being asked to to appear on radio and TV shows -- or being considered, and it was made clear that I was only being considered -- never has this occurred. I recall a young guy for The Learning Channel calling me several years back and wanting to film me up here as a kind of test interview. When I learned the circus doc was being partly funded by the Felds, I bowed out, not wanting to be turned into an unwitting flack for the mighty Feld Entertainment.

More recently, I I blogged about a talent scout for NBC pursuing me as a possible judge for the circus talent competition (that flopped out after the first season). Again, he made clear he was considering me, and I'd have to do a mock filmed interview. For other reasons, I declined to persue his interest. Okay. Nobody mislead. Nobody reneged on

Same thing for people I've I've also been on several radio interview shows. They were all on commercial television or radio.

But NPR and/or W-NYC. A different universe that plays much looser with common ethics, it seems.

"What do you expect when you go to a circus," Ms. Bishop asked me during our informal telephone conversation. "I expect to see what the circus has to show me," I answered, refusing to specify rigid components, for I have learned to let go and see each new ring as an empty slate, and be open to what I see and hear.

I mentioned some trends in modern circus music, most significantly, the original scores produced for several of the higher end shows, among them Big Apple Circus. Surprisingly, I got no rise from Katie Bishop. who seemed curiously dense about a great circus in her own backyard.

"So this is how an NPR affiliate operates," I wrote her in response to her unexpected and sudden dismissal. "I think Juan Williams made the right move, and NPR the wrong one by suggesting he contact his psychiatrist." Perhaps everybody at NPR and its affiliates has one. Not I. I've never needed a psychiatrist. But then again, I try to deal with people whose word has real value.

So, if you listen to the show, and I may too, think of the voice that might have been there. You may rue its absence. You may rejoice in its absence.

I'll be interested to see what a pair of academics have to see about circus music, and if the windjammers were also 86d from the lineup.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

3-Minute Midway: Once a Crack Kid Ticket Seller for RBBB Under Canvas, Now He's Walking for Walker Bros. He's Bill Taggart, He Is!


He troupes on, he does, this invincible powerhouse of big top get-it-done. A while back he was driving the big trucks for Cole Circus of Stars. Now he's in-harness (I just love that old phrase) with Walker Bros. There he is, feeling his octogenarian oats, with Timmy Loyal and Loyal's daughter. You look tip top, Bill!

The ageless trouper is 80-years-young (gosh, thanks for making me feel soooo comparatively young), trumping high and checking in. College educated Bill worked in Ringling's yellow ticket wagon through the ill-fated 1956 season. A part of his tell-all memoirs about shady ticket selling on the Big Show landed in Bandwagon, a few years back. Our eyes collectively were opened -- OK, well mine were.

I keep waiting for Bill to take us through the 1955-56 seasons. He'll be getting those notes together, promises he, this winter.

Hurry up, Bill! Talk to us some more from the deep dark "inside." And please, don't forget to recount your day in Pt. Richmond, CA, 1955, when this here kid (me) was on the lot, utterly spellbound, hopelessly sinking into this madly glorious spangle-clad addiction, no meds required. Come to think of it, is that why I take no meds?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Out of the Past: How Quickly Does Today Become Yesterday


That's the only bummer in life, you can't stop the clock. Tick tick tick. Day after day after day.

Already, the year will soon be half over, and, yes it just began -- yesterday.

Like an old railroad circus teasing a new town everyday, onto the lot and while the tents were going up you could almost feel the troupers edging in their minds toward tomorrow's town. You could almost hear a Big Circus Clock ticking away. During the evening show, after each act they'd strike the props and lug 'em out of the tent, and it felt like they were already deserting you in spirit. Packing up down there in the spangled shadows to make a fast exit back to the runs, up onto the flats and down the rails for some other place in a darkening void.

The tented city that moves by night, F. Beverly Kelly called it. A phrase that enchanted my entire boyhood. The tented city that moves by night.

Perhaps not so different from life. Go to bed we do. Dream we might. Wake up the next morning to face another day as the Big Clock keeps ticking away.

Looking back at past posts, I see people no longer with us, shows still struggling but still out there aiming to recapture lost glories. Aiming for the full houses that seem to get harder and harder to talk into tents.

I read reviews I've put out of circuses that are doing better, of circuses that are barely getting by. And the Big Clock keeps ticking. Another season comes. Another season goes.

I read about ring stars fading, ring stars rising. The comments are much less. I stopped letting anybody into the tent. Anonymous is too anonymous for me. Anonymous only enlarges a cold alien world of strangers too afraid of themselves to face each other. Was the circus ever about that? Sometimes, silence is better than a faceless coward. Sorry I said that, but I did.

Tomorrow comes too soon. Tomorrow stays too soon. They add up, one upon each other, like an oppressive pile of dueling memories, challenging us to make feel-good sense of them all. Grateful we should live to be, for "memories," said the late Beverly Dvorett, the wonderful lady from Ohio who followed the stars out to Beverly Hills and years later produced my musical Circus Kings in a small equity-waiver playhouse on Vermont north of Wilshire -- "memories are all we end up with." Such a wise outlook she shared with me one evening in Norm's restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. I often think back upon that moment. Save up as many good memories as you are lucky to collect, was Beverly's philosophy.

Here, starting tomorrow, are some out-of-the-past realities, or so they felt at the time. I'm riding the rails for a spell, following the arrows into a tent or two, to enjoy a little more of tomorrow's yesterdays.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In His Own Words: Cirque du Solei's Boss Reveals the Simplicity of a Producing Genius


Perched on the lofty edge of one of his many world castles, this one atop the Hollywood hills, billionaire big top tycoon Guy Laliberte talked to the the Los Angeles Times' Reed Johnson about his latest offering, Iris, designed to last 10 years at the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Whether audience interest will last ten years in a town famous for turning over product as fast as it can be "wrapped" and sent onto the road, is another matter.

Explained Laliberte on his producing philosophy, "We encourage mistakes because we believe that means they try things. The one thing we're very brutal with is that they [don't] repeat this mistake the second time."

Others on the creative staff of Iris, like prolific Hollywood soundtrack composer and rocker Danny Elfman, noted the generous artistic freedom they have enjoyed in their work "Guy doesn't come in and micro-manage like some producers can, " said Elfman. "They know that their best work comes out of allowing artists to be artists."

Elfman sees a parallel between Laliberte and movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, who would come around to view a rough cut, order cuts and revisions, leave and let the staff continue."

Cirque does "insist," according to the report, that each of its productions contain a "specified number of circus acts" and that it does not adhere to closely to a story line. Which may explain why many of you leave the tent more confused than when you came in.

Laliberte, something of a chain smoker it seems, likens his creative style to that of Pixar, believing they are similar in fostering a healthy "synergy" between artistic and business interests.

And the big boss encourages his staff to spend their off days in regenerative pursuits, such as sharing art works and taking part in charitable activities.

"I know I'm very privileged," said Laliberte to Reed while seated in his bare feet on his outdoor patio somewhere up there in tinsel town heights, "but the concept of people working all their life, seven days a week, piling up money, and dying being rich, I just don't get it."

Somehow, the image of all the smoke he is blowing into the air, not to mention its impact on his lungs, does not jive with his expressed advocacy for a healthy life style away from the bright lights.

The staff should encourage their boss, likewise, to tend to his health. Without him, this amazingly successful enterprise would likely suffer a sure slow death. From the incredible combination of talents that dance somewhere deep in Guy Laiberte's soul, come the Cirque shows, one after another.

Yes, some are floporamas. Others continue to astonish. Just like the top man said,, in order to succeed you've got to be willing and able to fall on your face or, might I add, slip, Banana Shepeel style.

(Note to the Cirque King: Frankly, Guy, that photo of you up there that appeared in the story, credited to your staff, is wretchedly awful. The lighting. Your stilted militaristic stance. Everything! And yet, in my pathetic desperation to illustrate your mug in my forthcoming book, Inside the Changing Circus, I actually contacted the Los Angeles Times about reprinting it. They wanted over $200! No thanks, Hollywood. Your people in Montreal, Guy, did not return my e-mails. No surprise. But you have an open invitation to meet me at my one-bedroom rental in Oakland. I have a balcony. On it, yes, you can smoke if you must.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Best American Circuses, 2011: Showbiz David & Others Rank them -- Only One Show Makes Everybody's List

From Showbiz David, Critical Feedback Division

No two people will ever agree on which show is “best,” and where to place the rest in order of quality. At the bottom of this post, I am pleased to include, in the order in which they were received, the top three picks of other contributors, which makes this so much more interesting.

My ranking criteria

For my money, what separates the best from the least? Surely, the strength of the acts, but that alone is hardly a guarantee for a winning program. Making the biggest difference are production values, from lighting and costume design to music, announcing, pacing and contrasting dynamics.

Some trends, good and ill

Every show offers reasons to go: All of the circuses listed here featured at least one or two — or more — notable acts, and most offered a wide variety of action.

Animal Attitudes: With the one exception of Circus Vargas, all of shows continue to offer the public entertaining animal acts. And the majority of the shows — five — still usually include wild animals in the mix. All of which evidences the public’s continuing preference for the full “traditional” program and the success of circus owners in fostering its confidence.

Ringmasteritis: A disease suffered by hack virtuosos of verbosity (aka: “ringmasters”) who can’t shut up and/or grovel to the crowd for coached applause and cheering. “How are you enjoying the show so far, everybody?!!” Four of the companies — Ringling’s Barnum 200, Cole Bros. Circus of Stars, Circus Vargas, and Carson & Barnes -- all carry verbal blowhards worthy of gag-order restraints.

The carnival in the tent: The crass integration of concession pitches throughout the program and hyper-active intermission rides and photo ops does nothing to enhance a show's artistic impression. Four of the shows listed here continue to pursue this course at their own risk.

Effective tape-recorded musical scores: Two of the companies — Cole Bros.Circus of Stars and Circus Vargas — prove that well constructed musical scores tape recorded for playback can actually be superior to small straining bands. “Live” is no good if your musicians are too few in number or can’t cut it.

The shows considered

I saw five of these circuses in 2011. I am factoring in two others: I caught Kelly Miller in 2010 (quite similar to the 2011 edition), and UniverSoul in 2005. I believe my rankings reflect their general quality. I am including only medium to large sized shows that present fixed programs during a regular touring season lasting many months. Thus, for example, shows like Circus Osario or Circus Bella would not make my list.

The Showbiz David 2011 Picks

1. Big Apple Circus (Dance On!) A nearly perfect performance. Superlative production values, not overly wrought, excellent acts of noteworthy innovation. Excellent music and clowning, a joyful reach. New Artistic Director Guillaume Dufresnoy is good news — the perfect figure to extend the Binder-Christensen legacy.

What to wish for: More substance in the air. If there is to be a ringmaster, let him/her speak a few words.

2. Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey For all that’s been said, the Felds continue to scout some of the best acts in the world, and they experiment with compelling new modes of presentation, even if they can’t resist overplaying their bag of flashy visual tricks. The acts may vary from first rate to forgettable, the music from brilliant to pedestrian, but their costumes and stage pictures are atmospherically outstanding, and they know how to build to a rousing climax.

What to wish for: A more consistently high grade performance, less heavy-handed showmanship. At Coney Island over two summers in a single ring, where they placed talent over fireworks, they produced their best two editions in years.

3. Kelly Miller Circus A promising work in progress from John Ringling North II, who has proved his Ringling credentials revealing a conservative deference to traditional circus while modestly testing the creative waters.

What to wish for: A more frequent turnover in performing personnel. This may be the most critical issue facing North, who at some point will have to let go of favored performers, that is, if he does not wish to alienate his positive relationship with the pubic. He needs a little stronger lineup. And, if he wishes to go the distance as a first-rate showman, he will have to shake off those old show-disrupting Hugo merchandising habits — a direct smear on the House of Ringling. This show has a nice warm feel and a friendly flow, and it covers the solid basics with good music and announcing.. In fact, the two circuses I most looking forward to seeing again are this and Big Apple.

4. UniverSoul Circus A difficult call, because I’ve not seen the show since 2005, but given website information on the current edition, it likely deserves this or a higher slot in my rankings. The funky UniverSoul Circus offers a strong muscular mix, if awkwardly merged, of traditional circus acts (some imported), Afro-centric hip hop routines, wild animals, a quirky character clown named Onion Head, and the oddly incongruous end-of-the-show morality skits.

What to wish for: a smoother integrated program minus the preachy melodramas that can drive customers to an early exit. Truly, these veiled sex, drugs and misogynistic enactments give breathtaking new meaning to the term “Sunday school show.”

5. Circus Vargas A show of moderately engaging action that varies from first rate to acceptably standard. It could and should be so much better, if only the owners would step back, let go and hand over the direction to a strong outside party. Along with evidence of smart staging in precious few spots, there is a lingering air of audience pandering desperation throughout the overly-hyped performance, including the exit path that patrons must take past performers waiting out in the connection to be flattered, smiled at, asked for autographs.

What to wish for: Better comedy, a better presentation. And, irony of ironies, a flying act that actually flies.

6. Cole Bros. Circus of Stars A far cry from the old Beatty-Cole three-ring show (presented in three rings) when the music was live, the clowning strong, the mid-level acts of even merit professionally paced. Cole’s taped musical score, as noted above, is generally excellent. Its lineup is wildly uneven, from charming animal and aerial ballet effects to pedestrian thrill turns rehashed year after year. The rectangular arena-shaped setting gives the performers a semi- stranded look. The excessive announcements grow quickly grating. And the clumsy staging (including a gauche fork lift truck for major prop changes) casts a dreary impression.

What to wish for: This show needs a total rethinking of the performance format. Messrs Pugh and Bale need to focus less on tent-show logistics, more on the performance itself.

7. Carson & Barnes It’s obvious the Byrds, to their credit, are genuinely trying to upgrade the show, what with a few world class acts and a rather expansive spread of action, some of it unfortunately bordering on rank amateurism. Most of their best moves forward are sabotaged by stale production elements they seem unable to retire (a bombastic ringmaster entirely out of place, for example), and the usual crass inclusion of concession pitches throughout the show.

What to wish for: Gutting the intermission, hiring a clown who presents new routines each year, and hiring a new, less talky, less overbearing ringmaster, would work wonders for the lineup. When they ran the show straight through without an intermission, Carson & Barnes now and then produced some of America's most exciting performances. They can easily do it again, but they must make drastic structural changes.

How Others Judge Them

And now, to the rankings of my guest-volunteer judges. After having set my own rankings in stone, I invited others to send in their top 3 favorites. The reason I confined the number to 3 was to make the task as easy as possible. A few of shows listed here do not appear on my rankings; since I have not seen any of them, I was in no position to consider including them on my o1n list.

From Harry Kingston


Says Harry, " I am always in favor of tent shows right or wrong"

1. Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

2. Kelly Miller Circus

3. Carson and Barnes Circus.

From Don Covington

1. Big Apple Circus

2. Kelly Miller Circus

3. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

From Ron Finch, Newark Valley, NY

1. Kelly Miller Circus

2. Billy Martin's Cole All Star Circus

3. Cole Bros. Circus of Stars


From Becky Ostroff

1. Cirque Polynesian

2. Kelly Miller Circus

3. James Cristy Cole Circus

From Charles Hanson

1. Carson & Barnes Circus

2. Kelly Miller Circus

3. Cole Bros. Circus of Stars


Kelly Miller's Rare Popularity

For the fun of it, pooling all the scores -- mine and my five guest judges -- I assigned three points to any show getting a first place ranking, two points for a second, one point for a third. Here is what we get:


1. Kelly Miller Circus (12 points)

2. Big Apple Circus (6 points)

3. Cole Bros Circus of Stars (5 points)

The only show to make everybody's top three list, what is it about Kelly Miller? I believe it has something to do with the intangibles of spirit. Here is what Becky Ostroff said about Kelly Miller in her e-mail to me:

"I felt this gem of a delight flowed and kept my attention and was over before I knew it. What was not to love! All the elements of a classic show, animals, comedy, acrobatic, aerial, clowning and music."

Thanks to all of you, my guest judges!

Original posted 10.19.11

Monday, October 03, 2011

Cirque du Soleil's "Iris" Wows L.A. Critics ... Are They for Real?

Los Angeles Times photo. Photographer unidentified.

It must be a glorious day for Cirque du Soleil down in tinsel town. And deja vu all over again. This is the place where the Montreal Monster conquered the world stage back in 1987 when it gambled all its kitty on a date in Japantown, wowed the entire city and soon after the world, and the rest is phenomenal history.

Twenty four years ago. Then, Cirque came bearing a simple though brilliantly inventive show under a little tent.

Now, 24 seasons later, it has returned full circle, back to the city of it's world birth, bearing a dazzling display of how it has reached into other venues and, finally, onto the stage.

I have felt all along that, in order for this gig to be big and last, it would have to be Cirque Grade A+ Nothing less. And maybe it is. But, even then ...

I am not quite ready to fully believe all of the raves I've read, for three reasons:

1. L.A. shares a special history with Cirque du Soleil, as noted above.

2. L.A. desperately needs a permanent anchor amusement to occupy and make more vital the Kodak Theatre, where previous tenants have failed.

3. The L.A. critics can come off on occasion as cheerleaders, either fooled by what they are watching or lacking in what I'd call New York critical independence. Time and time again, I've observed them to embrace a show, almost unanimously, that just was not that good. Example: The curiously rewritten Flower Drum Song, which premiered in L.A. prior to its "Broadway revival." L.A. reviewers issued virtual raves. Once FDS hit the New York boards, Gotham critics blasted it in a thousand different ways. It flopped within months.

Which is not to say that the critics are wrong on Iris. But I do wonder if some of their enthusiasm is driven by a burning desire, city wide, for the blockbuster draw that can bring much-needed live-entertainment luster to Hollywood and Hyland, where tourists flock to have their photos taken, gaze down upon the stars, buy a few souvenirs and quickly move on. Will Iris convince them to spend another night and a few hundred more dollars?

As one local said to a reporter, "They have no competition!"

For me, this will be a fascinating story to watch. By one account, if they can fill up 65% of the Kodak Theatre seats on average, they can turn some kind of a profit. Show is slated for a 10-year run. No where else in tinseltown do shows last even for a year.

For the moment, there is rare euphoria in the air. This is the town that put Cirque du Soleil on the map, make no mistake, and this is the town that may put them higher on the map. If Iris is as great as the reviews are saying, I can imagine watching it, maybe when I am in a wheel chair, when the ticket prices come back down to earth.

But, I doubt that. I can see discounts in a year or two. Blockbusters rise and fall here as fast as flats on a back lot.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sunday Morning with Showbiz David: Challenged More Than Ever by "The Ever Changing, Never Changing Circus"

From October 2, 2011 


My soul feels stretched like endless mist across time, by thousands of years as I consider how "circus" has meant so many things to so many different people across time's evolving sweep -- from the blood and thunder of Roman chariot races to the soaring poetry of today's virtual ballets in the sky.

My soul accepts the infinite reality that "circus" will never always be the same, not by a thousand triples or a hundred pratfalls. And so, my spirit surrenders to what is out there now in the ring, coming my way, trying to win me over -- as opposed to what is no longer there and may never return. And in the acceptance of this, I take my seat yet another time, glance upon the ring before me as a blank slate, and hope it will fill and overflow in ways both familiar and fresh, sweep me up on a ride and, at the end, send me out still half-way in the air, cheered, inspired, a believer once more.

I know it may not, but if I do not go, what might I miss?

History shows us, whether we like it or not, that the show is forever changing, as it must if it is to stay alive in the present. Who could have imagined 20-30 years ago that Ringling-Barnum would not always present a flying trapeze act?

Old timers once lamented the passing of the talking clown. They resented the disruptive enormity of "three rings" rather than just a single circle.

Like shifting sand patterns on the beach, so too the shifting patterns of clubs in motion, bodies off springboards, dogs onto horses turning clever tricks ...


I entered the tents barely in time to catch the last act of the old Roman horse races ending the show. Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. still staged them, rough and real, as late as around 1960.

Midway through my spangled infatuations, the great Ringling ringmaster Harold Ronk, sitting out in the seats with me before a show at the Cow Palace, talked up the "four staples" he firmly believed to be circus essentials: "Elephants, flying acts, wild animals and clowns." How wise was he in his own time. Three of Harold's staples, in fact, match the only acts I can recall from my very first circus experience, around the age of five, at Polack Bros. Possibly Polack did not present wild animals, or they, too, I would have remembered.

Decades have passed. Now there is Cirque du Soleil, minus three of the staples. Now there is the "wheel of destiny," nearly a staple that was no where around when I peaked into the tent; now, dazzling ensemble variations on risley. And now, up there over the ring, young aerialists are carving out captivating new flight patterns in the big top skies.

Author Earl Chapin May called it "the ever changing, never changing circus." Lately, I have started to question his thesis. But then again, maybe in a broader sense he was right. Right if we accept the big top's surviving will and ability to reinvent its power to astound and amuse.

Next show, please! Stretch my soul in another unexpected direction, if you must. It feels more flexible, open, willing than ever. Show me whatever new magic you have that just might astound and amuse me. And renew my faith in the great spangled parade ...



10.2.2011