Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spectacle Magazine Reviews Kelly-Miller Circus: How Seriously Does John Ringling North II Take His Middle Name?

In his telling review of Kelly Miller Circus, which appears in the just-released on-line version of Spectacle magazine, Ernest Albrecht's observations only add to my rueful sense that John Ringling North II may harbor insufficient desire and resolve to produce an artistically distinguished -- and compelling -- performance, more in keeping with the traditions for excellence long associated with his family's famous name. In deed, closer to what he seemed to promise at the outset of his tenure back in 2007.

Writes Albrecht, in conclusion, North "needs to decide whether he wants to produce a show that is a family affair or if he wants to reach out and bring in new talent that can produce the fully realized artistic expression he once seemed to have in mind."

Seemed seems to be the operative word here. In a recent letter to me from Ireland, North disputed ever having stated a wish to bring "a little Ringling magic" to Kelly Miller when he purchased the show at the end of 2006 from David Rawls. I had quoted this in my book, being fairly sure that I had read the remark at the time (I should have dug deeper to find it, an error in research on my part). So, feeling that perhaps I had misrepresented North, I corresponded with manager James Royal on the matter, recounting having read the remark, or something very close, in a small newspaper back in 2006 or early 2007. Royal conceded, a nice gesture of honesty, that he himself may have coined those words "Ringling magic," and that they might have been published in a Texas newspaper. I do know this, checking back, that North II stated how he intended to add a few "production numbers." In essence, certainly he was promising something closer to the circus as defined by his famous uncle, John Ringling North, than to the one he had taken over.

The way that North took issue with my having, as he saw it, misquoted him, it felt almost as if he were saying, don't blame him for my own false expectations. More disappointing still, that maybe he has no intention of doing much more than he already has.

When I reviewed the 2010 edition of Kelly-Miller, I found a lot to enjoy and appreciate, giving it a respectable 2-1/2 stars and getting in return some hate mail from Anonymous sources. I had reservations, chiefly that the show lacked effective direction. That year, the Poema Family brought razzle dazzle showmanship to the ring, and there were, to be sure, a few moments of creative direction on display -- for example, a delightful comedic interplay between Adrian Poem, Jr. (a true star) and ringmaster John Moss III in the central production number.

I suggested, nonetheless, that what North II needed most was a proven director who could give the show a stronger pulse; Steve Smith, from what I knew about him, seemed an ideal candidate, a person who could work with North in helping him to realize his goals.

Writes Albrecht, "North certainly takes full advantage of his family connection in his advertising and at the ticket wagon."

Critiquing this season's pirate themed production number, Albrecht observes, "What is missing almost entirely from all this is any sense of the kind of swashbuckling antics we normally associate with pirates ... A young mermaid and an even younger bird of paradise lounge about to little or no effect."

He has nice things to say for a number of the acts, and although he finds a little too much "repetitious" slapstick in the routines of clowns Copeland and Combs, nonetheless he offers them take-note praise: "... the blowoffs of their major gags produce major laughs."

Here is the big question about John Ringling North II, which I believe will likely be answered soon (he is heading into his seventh season next year): Does he have the will to invest more money and take decisive action to build a stronger performance? Or has he come to terms with more modest goals, content to tour a slender lineup of favored performers on a shoestring budget, fostering insufficient turnover each year to generate true excitement and healthy patronage? I liked the 2010 show enough to place it Number 3 on a "Best of Circuses" list I put out a year or so ago, just behind Big Apple Circus and Ringling-Barnum. But, would I have welcomed seeing the same show over and over again? No, I would not.

To read the full Spectacle review, here is the link:

Scroll down a ways to find it.


john herriott said...

It appears to me that the performance is quite adequate for a show of that size in comparison with other similar size shows under canvas doing mostly one day stands.Good production numbers call for more people especially alot of clowns and showgirls. I believe small town America is well served by KM.Carson-Barnes has always operated on a larger scale in every aspect and continues to do just that with more people etc. Even tho it has been scaled down from previous years.All of us "mud show folks" would agree that it is a nice show up to par with the others of years back. My only comments are that how it was done back when ois not good enough today. Still showing on terrible lots, not having shavings or sawdust in the rings. Expecting human beings to work and move seven days a week with two and even three shows a day. Poor providing adequate elec. and water in this modern day. Yes we went thru that years ago but our whole way of society was not as sophisticated as today. Everything is air cond. Not before//. The animal activits rightfully complain about animal care and something is done but nobody seems to care about human abuse. Alot of circus people are getting out of the business and I can understand why. Whats wrong with a day of rest? Even the good lord prescribed it. Mills Bros. rarely did three show days. I remember in Bingamton, N. Y. once in the two seasons we were there and never ever showed on Sundays. It was common practice for Circuses to have "Sundays off". I recall when old KM and Ringling stuck in a matinee only on Sundays. The larger Shrine dates and RBBB do three on SAt. and even on Sun. but bear in mind they have days off. Every circus in Mex. and I believe South America does four shows every Sunday but again they have days ogff as well. Too bad the circus in general has not lived up to this Century. john herriott

Jim Royal said...

It seems to me that you and Ernest and under the mistaken belief that Mr. North bought the Ringling show. What he bought was a mid-size tent show with an impeccable record for pleasing sponsors and audiences. Although the show plays some large markets, the majority of the route is small town America and one day stands. This places some constraints on what can be presented. Although we might wish otherwise, this is a business and bills must be paid. Frankly I feel insulted when you say "a slender lineup of favored performers on a shoestring budget". On the contrary, I think a show that includes aerialists, ground acts, clowns, tigers, elephants, camels, zebras and dogs is anything but a slender lineup. If you think that is a shoestring budget, give me a call and I will tell you about our "nut". You also say "fostering insufficient turnover each year to generate true excitement and healthy patronage". Our attendance figures have been increasing each year for the last 3 seasons. You have only seen our show one time in 2010, and on that occasion we were on a difficult lot that necessitated some changes to the program. This may sound a bit rude, but we are concerned with pleasing our audiences and our local sponsors. This is something we are doing on a daily basis. If you and Ernest are not pleased with our productions, so be it.