Oakland to DC: Strike up the Bella Band!

Oakland to DC:  Strike up the Bella Band!
One of the best scored circuses in America. Scroll down to see the full story.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Carny Rides To Die For ... Check Out This Wacko Showing Off His Firm's Monster Midway Death-a-Whirls

Centrifuge Brain Project

If you want a good laugh, the Centrifuge Brain Project is a satire on the ultimate lunacy in EXTREME carnival ride design.  These horrific screamers make your common wood roller coaster look like a horse-drawn buggy ride in Amish country.

Sent to me by new nephew, Jeff, at first, I took the thing on face value, wondering where in the world these rides were in actual operation, and wondering if the narrator had spent some quality time in a nut house.   

Second visit, now in on the joke, I laughed my head off!!!!

Fasten your seat belts and sign your wills; you may never return.

here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVeHxUVkW4w

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Ringling Magic," At Last, Under Kelly Miller Canvas



Tonight, just now, seconds ago, I re-watched the Kelly Miller DVD that John Ringling North II had sent me a while back, wanting to take a second look at the sensationally captivating young ball bounce juggler from Ethiopia, Abrham Gebre, making a  "first time in America" appearance on the show.

I was even more impressed, thinking I might have slightly overreacted when first I saw him on the video, his presence lifting the show truly into Ringling territory, far beyond the normal fare of a pleasant JRN II circus program.   He is a fair sensation,  somersaulting into the ring (I hadn't noticed that the first time), grabbing the audience's attention with an ingratiating charm full of a sharing energy, and proceeding to dazzle with his routine, ending up atop a ladder on a table, to produce a neat payoff.  This is the stuff of Gold.

End of act, during moments when I heard a drum roll, and saw blue canvas, I felt almost as if I were back in De Mille's The Greatest Show on Earth under that gorgeous big top.

When North bought the show back in around  2007, he or Jim Royal issued a statement to a press person about wanting to bring a "little Ringling magic" to the show

Well, this is that magic.  Gebre is probably the best act  North & Royal have ever signed, the Poema family coming in a solid second.  There were some African tumblers, I believe, whom some thought were the high point of the edition, one of the first,  in which they appeared.

Perhaps Johnny Come Lately has a way of finding and signing newer talent on the rise, at good terms.  A flair for the foreign.

Here, in the charismatic attack of a great performer and  entertainer (like Brunn, Gebre's body is in constant motion, too, complimenting his diverse repertoire),  North II presents the genuine article.

I could almost hear  Merle Evans' men thundering through, "Sing Hallelujah!" ... the ringmaster shouting high and wide ... the Greaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat Sebastian!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Concello Gets “Kicked Out” of the Ringling Show... All About that Strange Ill-fated European Tour



 Photos from the program magazine

The recollections of it, depending upon whom to believe, are so wildly variable as to leave one in a complete muddle.  Was it that bad?   Or, no, you say it was quite good, really?  When John Ringling North took Ringling-Barnum  to Europe in 1963, banking on continental acclaim, great business, and  a regular annual our of major Old World capitals, he left virtually all of the planning and delivery to Arthur Concello.  The two had, what would become, a legendary history, something like Barnum & Bailey.

We know the show may have opened in shambles — director Richard Barstow curiously not called over to begin his work until the show was well into rehearsals, under the default direction of Concello’s girl friend, Maggie Smith.  The reviews were good, business fairly good and building.

From Don’s letter to me dated November 13, 1963, when I was in Scotland at the time:

You’ll be interested to learn some information I picked up while visiting James Bros.  Everyone was talking about the fact that North has kicked Concello out of the Ringling organization.  He is reportedly suing Concello for something like $2 million.  As I understand things Concello will manage the New York World’s Fair circus and then his connection with the Ringling show ceases completely.  What has happened or why the sudden outburst I don’t know.  In fact I’m most anxious to learn about this myself, so will surely keep you posted.”


A page from the program magazine. I do not see a dearth of talent.
.
About the “sudden outburst,” years later, while interviewing Mr. Concello, indoor pool side, in his Sarasota home (he was kind to me, always) when the subject of the European tour came up, at one point in the disintegrating relationship between AMC and JRN abroad, Mr. Concello motioned me to follow him around the pool to a closet.  In it, he reached up to retrieve his diary for the year 1963. He thumbed through it to a page, and held it up for me to read;

“North raising hell”.

He stood there looking a little amused by my serious reaction.  But, in fact, I got a distinct feeling that he had felt very very uncomfortable being around North at the time.  He did not know, although he may have suspected, that, upon returning to the states to work on the World's Fair unit, he was about to be fired.

The two men were equally strong willed, from my observations. Concello’s handling of Ringling in Europe seemed engineered to favor choreographer Margaret Smith (the two later married) over the director of record, Dick Barstow.  And here is the strangest part of the story: Barstow kept waiting to be called over to begin his work, and kept being put off.  Finally, he was notified to come, and when he arrived, the show had already opened. Flabbergasted at the chaotic state of the program that he claimed to have found, Barstow bolted up to JRN and demanded that his name be taken off the program, that he was going back to the states.  North talked Barstow out of it. 

Henry Ringling North, in an interview he gave me at the Yale Club in NY, some years later, called the Paris opening “an absolute disgrace.”  Meaning, I think, the program was a mess, as sometimes they can be the first few performances out.   Based on the program lineup, no way can anybody claim that the roster of performers was not generally top drawer.  But, of course, it’s all in how the whole thing is put together. 

They played a few cities.  Photos show most of the seats filled.  Ken Dodd, who has seen a video of the show, thought it looked very good.

John Ringling North let go of his dream, in my opinion, not wishing to harm his high reputation over there, as he had already done in the states when he struck the big top.  He wished more, I believe, to sustain the peace and respect he had found in the Old World.

9.14.14

Monday, September 08, 2014

Struck by Kelly Miller on DVD: A Tale of Two Circuses Under the Same Tent



 First Time in America: Abrham Gebre

It came in the mail, not unexpected, per what seems a friendly tradition, a big envelope which, when squeezed, suggested the inclusion of peanuts. MMM, those I will like, for sure.  It came without a note; perhaps the sender sent it reluctantly, though I have never solicited such.  Perhaps he could still not resist, wishing to maybe tease me with evidence of the kind of a circus he is on record for wishing to produce – the “best” in America.

On the top left of the envelope was one word, written in letters: NORTH.  Of course, we know this to be none other than John Ringling North II.

Inside, a program and a DVD of the 2014 edition, still out there somewhere on the road.

Of course, I would watch it, forever interested in what the House of Ringling may be up to.  At the same time,  I had no intention of reviewing the show on the basis of a DVD.  My thinking along these lines is “evolving,” however, because recorded videos can contain an entire performance, unedited for the most part.

But, at the end of the first half, I knew I would not be commenting at all.

And then, in the second half, came an act so good, it felt like an out-of-body experience at Kelly Miller.  A young juggler from Ethiopia of inventive skill, showmanship, and a fast gripping delivery,  sending me into Ringling or Big Apple territory.  Maybe  not perfect, but Damn good.  This guy would hold his own in any ring.  His name is Abrham Gebre.

 And then yet another act of high-line showmanship, this involving fire, the artist, Lamount, returning for his second year on K-M, and earlier seen on a Lane Talbert You Tube,  but only in a sampling of clips, and no, I do not review clips.  Here, in complete, the act is remarkable in its variation and complexity, in how a series of blazing stage pictures in the dark can build to a mesmerizing climax.

And so, here I am, to a degree commenting on the two circuses I saw in that one tent.  Never have I witnessed a performance so incredibly varied -- from rank amateurism to virtual world class fare.

First off, to a couple of very good new acts that lift the first half into pro territory: Veteran juggler Nicholas Souren, and two finely choreographed Mongolian contortion acrobats, Amina & Zaia, who come with a touch of Vegas razzle dazzle, offering some novel moves on an act we see perhaps too often these days, the public seeming never to get enough of this type of slower moving artistry.  But they give the show class, if only they had a stronger pay off..

So, at Kelly Miller circus 2014, a show otherwise staid. stagnant, and numbingly redundant redeems itself at four intervals with a much higher class of action than we have grown to expect from Johnny North  II’s Cherry Pie Repertory company.



** Juggler Noholas Souren.  He offers a full winning repertory, but what I lacked was a more flashy presentation, perhaps just a more colorful costume.

** The Mongolians.  Lots of meticulous class and styling.  I'd expected something rudimentary, but got a polished frame.


**  Ethiopian ball bounce juggler, Abraham Gebre -- a star in the making, and a credit to North’s potential ability to go after and book some of the best out there. 

**  Biggest surprise: Lamount, The Human Volcano. 

The other circus under the same tent?  I will not dwell, I am not here, believe it or not, to rile those who detest my line of critical prose.   It would be pointless.  But for those ready to claim I haven’t the guts to come clean on what exactly it is I find weak, okay, a few examples:

* Dogs that appear to be in training rather than performing.

* Clowning that falls woefully short of the mark.

* The Carousel "production"  number comes up a blank, a void.   Almost nothing happens, and it was a let down, for I have noted in past comments that JRN II shows a flair for production.  Not here.  The action is pinned on pleasant, slow moving  aerial work of little consequence.

Three examples, there.   The rest of the show, I suppose, is adequate.  Now, please, if you yourself are on fire, ready to fire off hate mail, may I kindly propose a way to cool off?  Consider that Circus Report called the show “the best in America,” and that Spectacle gave it a fairly glowing pass.  Still upset?  I’d suggest ditching this blog for good, pal. That’s what I do when I can’t stand whatever it is I can' stand anymore, like obnoxious talk show hosts -- or critics.

I will not linger.  Sometimes, a first draft is the most honest draft.   I did enjoy a new brand of peanuts, thank you “North.”

And I might now replay the DVD, just to enjoy what there is there to enjoy.  A friendly piece of unsolicited advice: Let go of your comfort zone, Johnny the Sequel, and think NEW.  And if I don't get a big envelope from you  next year, I will understand.  No hard feelings, okay?

End Ringers:  Incredible.  Three of the four acts I mention, all first timers, do not have photos on the show's website.  Steve and Ryan are still there, as are acts from other years.   Go figure.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Ringling Quad Wars Produce Backstage Blood Between Rival Flyers, Charges Filed, Rigging Sabotage Alleged, One Troupe Thrown Off the Lot ...

We all know, I assume, that Miguel Vazquez was and is the undisputed Quad King. It was he who threw the first four somersaults into the hands of his brother-catcher, Juan, during the Tucson, AZ date  on July 10, 1982.  

A few seasons later,  Ringling boss Irvin Feld booked another high-flying troupe, the Caballeros, who had achieved similar quad success with Carson & Barnes.  The Big show now gave the public the spectacle of two quad kings battling it out, show by show, blow by blow.  And  to the latter, it nearly came.

Not sure if this was such a good idea.  Seems, in retrospect, like an insult to Miguel, who had achieved such greatness in Feld’s center ring (excuse me, ring number 2), and who would continue with other circuses, near and far, to sustain a legendary record that nobody since has come even close to matching, those anonymous Russian flyers, The Cranes, perhaps notwithstanding.

Tensions between the two troupes fired jealousies and anger, and led to allegations that somebody was trying to sabotage the other troupe's rigging. 

In his letter to me dated, September 11, 1988, Don Marcks was addressing the subject of Big Irwin being only one of three Pickle Family Circus clowns to achieve first line success on Broadway, in connection with the MacArthur Genius Grant he was awarded, and of the other two — Larry Pisoni and Geoff Hoyle, naturally wanting, but being unable, to match Irwin’s celebrity.  Hoyle came closer, albeit in local regional theatre venues.

Here comes the big shocker, from Don:

“Not sure if you were aware of it or not, but there has been a lot of trouble between the two flying acts on the Blue Unit this year and this has resulted in some fighting backstage, even filing charges against one another, some talk that cables were filed through, etc.  Anyway, it all ended here in Oakland when the Caballeros were fired.  I don’t know where they went, but no doubt they will pop up on some show soon or at least for next season anyway.”

How fitting that the quad was first thrown, and then thrown regularly by Vazquez, during arguably the last great American circus decade --  the 1980s.

Those greater and richer years, and that greatest of all circus achievement, are now history.  Yes, now and then we hear of somebody catching a quad, although  sometimes in an easier manner, thus diminishing the trick's integrity.

Now and then, a quad maybe out there, for one brief shinning moment.

During the 1980s, brief shinning moments were a more regular part of the program.