Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beat of the Big Tops, 2013: Looking Backward, Half Dreaming Forward ...

Warning: Many of my blogging tools have vanished or are on hiatus. Perhaps Fate is sending me a Stop message. If you suffer severe reactions to twrling typos and mischievous misspellings, I urge you to skip this post immediately. It may rattle your psyche.

Oh, why not? I had nothing formally brewing in mind, so here goes, in random order, events and trends that intrigue or cheer or depress me:

Feld Forever: If you are a fan of the family’s impact on Ringling-Barnum legacy, you should be pleased. Give the Feld of Felds credit for honing his daughters to eventually take over once he is no longer around. At the top, Nicole Feld appears to be proving that she has what it takes.

Ringling light: John Ringling North II, apparently content to put out a middle-of-the-road tent show drawing on tradition, it being called Kelly Miller Circus, seems unlikely to push his modest creative envelope.

Johnny Pugh’s Happy Big Top: The man continues to helm his Cole Bros. Circus of Stars. In convincing contrast to long-argued rumors by one Sarasota insider that he has forever been trying to sell out, Pugh follows the course of most circus owners: They stay with it and for it until the end of their time on earth. John Ringling (the First), out of power and still striving to regain it, wept in a wheel chair, seated on the edge of a street as Cole Bros Circus paraded by.

Paul Binder’s shadow: Graciously, blogging, he talked up this year’s fine performance and strong critical reception. I hope to get a copy of his book, but I doubt I will learn much. Somehow, I can’t see Paul revealing his innermost feeling about other circuses and trends, even though, among big top lords, he is likely the most educated and articulate.

Big Apple Circus to thank: It’s still in my book a national treasure and arguably, overall, the best show out on the road. It gives me another spring New York trip to look forward to. I can almost find my way on a bus to Queens, blindfolded. New artistic director Guilluame Dufresnoy seems to be the perfect person to extend the Binder-Christiensen mode.

Carson & Barnes dreaming: Okay, you Byrds, take a provisional encore! So rich are my long ago memories of your five ring tents, your crusty canvas, your quirky seat wagons (sooo much fun) that I still long for a great performance from you.

Best Circus Website of 2013: Carson & Barnes. If only they could translate its captivating spirit, texture, imagery and control into a great show. (Maybe they have, okay, but the peanut pitch was missing from the website, hint hint!)

Museums Affirm Resolve, Expansion:We’re talking both Baraboo, now under fresh direction from the youngish Scott O’Donnell with an ample portfolio of circus credits to his name. And of course, we are talking the Sarasota juggernaut, squatters with millions to spend in the land of John Ringling’s estate, originally pledged for art --- before circus conquered a spot and kept on growing. An interesting story. Money and bureaucrats form the perfect storm to trump something so inconvenient as the will of a dead circus king.

Stage & Sawdust: They’re out there, the experimental troupes determined to mold ballet, circus and theatre into one --- and who knows, somebody may one day bring it off brilliantly. Not so brilliant are the ghosts of recent fluffy fiascos from Cirque du Soleil: Banana Shpeel on Broadway, Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall, Iris in Hollywood, and others. Think Spider Man. You say I should think Pippin? The big creative breakthrough? It’s an established musical to begin with (pretty lame when it first came out), this time out, in robust revival, substituting circus acts for magic acts.

Symphony and Sawdust: This idea any better? On paper, it sounds good. Somehow, I can’t see it clicking beyond a few novel overtures.

Montreal Magic fading: For the first time since they hit the states in 1987, I no longer plan to, for sure, see the next touring show from Cirque du Soleil that comes to San Francisco. The last two strained bargain-basement offerings, Totem and Amaluna (sounds like a medical condition, no?), left me Luke warm, and from a circus, I want more than luke warm, thank you. Hard to believe, but, the next time, I will first check out the reviews, since Bagdad By the Bay seems fully capable of reviewing a circus like any other show.

Biggest Big Top Wish: To see bodies in the seats when I go to these shows. Yes, it happens at Big Apple Circus and CDS, and, yes, Ringling manages at least (in Oakland) to pull in a few thousand souls, though hardly what one would call an impressive crowd.

What does the public really want? Recalling the late great Henry Edgar once posing a question: So let’s say somebody puts out a perfect circus, and the people still don’t come?

Yes, Henry, just suppose. Which is why I am not a big top boss, which is why those rare circus owners out there somehow know how to stay on the road year after year after year.

Cheers to them, I suppose…

By the way, does anybody out there know if Cason and Barnes is coming to California next year?


Harry Kingston said...

Carson and Barnes facebook page says they open in 5 weeks.
So time will tell and I bet you will see a real great performance this year.
It ought to be real interesting where all the shows will go in 2014.
And when you plan your East Coast journey you ought to see Cole also as I think you will be surprised.
Have a great 2014 and keep blogging.
Harry in Texcas

Showbiz David said...

Hi Harry,
C&B opening so early, a good sign.
Yes, I do hope to see Cole when I rail east, depends on where they are in late May.
Hope your circus season in 2014 is a big one!