Friday, March 20, 2009

Saturday Flashes: Ringling Canvas over Coney? ... Kelly-Miller Tigers & Clowns Deliver Socko Payoffs ... Mud Show Apologists Try My Patience ...

2016 Update: If you want to learn a whole lot about how to fairly watch any circus, I urge you to read the late Henry Edgar's comment, posted below.

Here comes talk once more of a big top labeled Ringling, this time linked to fading tattered old Coney Island, where kids can still ride one of the best roller coasters that ever was. In my extreme youth, I loved the monster. Seems that the Feld machine is negotiating, kind of, and the hurdles hit upon concern concession rights. Oh, how Hugo apt! (Thanks a ton, Don Canvas Covington, for keeping me up on this one). ... And where might Big Bertha rise again? Over the recently finally once and for all put out of its glitzy misery Astroland. I hated that title from the get go. I remember as a wee boy being swept up into the sky on the Wonder Wheel and dropping down back to earth on the big parachutes ... My grandma, who made girdles for Brooklyn ladies and dames (charging them per her on-the-spot perceptions of their bank accounts) took me there. Will Kenneth Feld concoct another lame-brain title that nobody but he digs? Here's one: Barnum's Coneyscope.

Kelly-Miller in bits and pieces (Grit my teeth, I tell myself, those mud show apologists are now glued to every word I am about to utter. I sleuthed out two You Tube videos, one of Casey McCoy's classy tiger act, with a set of tenderly integrated tiger maneuvers that hereby crown the man as a minor if not major master. He's the real McCoy. I’d seen his two-tiger hind-leg walk and noted my appreciation (and it wasn’t, thank the Gods, interrupted by a Peterson Peanut Pledge break) ... Here, more of the act is revealed. McCoy's persona is closer to an elegant ice skater than that of the macho cage man. And he has a remarkable way of appearing to be almost whispering to his smoothly compliant charges. Through line: One tiger does a backward hind-leg walk and tucks himself neatly between two seated tigers. Then all three sit up, and the two exterior cats rise up onto their hind legs and hop forward. So seamlessly joined (with “music” leaving a lot to be desired), it gets four stars from me ... Clowns? I saw the shovel gag. Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs have some whimsical interlocking movements AND a payoff that still tickles me picturing it. The ringmaster, traditionalist John Moss, having told them no more shovels and don’t hurt anyone, ends up walking into the ring with a large arrow sticking out of his proper posterior and evidently not even knowing it! (No, no, we won't take that any farther.) These visual gags tickle ... Rest of the show? Have no idea, other than its tour so far sounding messy, what with changing lot conditions and acts coming and going ... I'll continue on the You Tube front ...

"Anonymous," I’m not your “dude”! Or am I? Makes me feel young and edgy when somebody too too courageous to list a name hides behind "anonymous" to call me "dude" and take me on over my agitating views on the coloring book issue. A, consider yourself lucky I let you in. When it comes to anonymity, I’m going to allow myself a kingly capriciousness in deciding whether to publisher or toss. Says A, "Obviously, you've never been on the road.” Well, a few times, maybe in it. And, furthermore, says A, “So GET over yourself, please!” Okay, A, now why don’t you tell that to your friend and idol Steve, for it was he I was quoting, he who cried out through the depths of post-concession pitch desolation, “stupid coloring books!” And, A, I was actually sympathizing with your guy. Now, as for Steve's blog being just for an adoring circle (and my not being welcome there), I did not have to sign up to view it, and I practice journalism with the times, wherever I can find it. You need to calm down and smell the nuances — anonymously. BTW, is John Ringling North II still on the show?

"Mud show" apologists, paaaaleze. I am tired of a certain school of troupers who endlessly drop this pathetic term to justify all manner of show-stopping interruptions. When I hear the term, I think of that boring book about the Hoxie Circus, which did not thrill me the one time I saw it ... Why can't they bear me? Fact is, if there were more mes out there, I would not seem so extreme. Plus, many of these so-called mud shows likely never ever face the harsh lights of a real review; they year after year read the White Tops and Circus Report, and they hear the fans up and down trails telling them how wonderful they are, and I guess they believe it. And, know what? All of this collective gush may blind them to reality. Have a cup of bitter tea ...

End ringers, Tranquility Mao for me: A show around Broadway, Humor Abuse, by one time Pickle Family Circus clown, Lorenzo, son of PFC founder Larry, engaging an impressed New York Times critic. (Not sure what the White Tops will say.) About many things. The kid had a hard time cooping with the collapse of his parents marriage; so did Larry, who told me that’s what he most regrets about his years helming a once charming little San Francisco show. I rue its demise. It was like pure sunshine over pure green grass on a pure summer day ...

Britney (why do I even drop her sleazy name on my pure midway?), okay the gal toured a kids hospital in Miami (good going, gal) and she handed over a big check to Big Apple Circus. What next for Brit? A Peterson lap dance during elephant rides? ... And here’s news of a thriving circus and school up in Minnesota land, Circus Juventas. Now and then, these scholarly acro-gyms float into my skeptical view, and maybe one day they will teach themselves how to turn out first rate ring stars ... Ringling Zing getting its pr due in NY. Director of record Shanda Sawyer, “It’s a very ambitious show with many layers: the acts; the story, the transitional moments, the magic.” But will it have any real payoffs? I'm eager to check out the new Zingmaster guy, who sounds refreshingly off axis ... Yeah, off axis might be Feld's big breakthrough. ... I’m still giggling over the John Moss arrow-recipient-of-the-year walk ...

And that’s a muddy wrap, folks!

[photos: Astroland, New York Times; Casey McCoy and John Ringling North II; Circus Jeventas photo; "Zingmaster" Alex Ramon and Levitytia, in TheatreMania, Feld Entertainment photo]

First posted: March 20, 2009

13 comments:

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

You really didn't like the music?
That is my favorite part of the act

Showbiz David said...

I was listening to a fuzzy sound on You Tube, so that must be taken into account. This is not a formal review, but I thought if anything the music director's aim was to provide faster music for a not-fast act. I played an old Merle Evans Ellington tune he'd used for cage acts, and it was a bit better. The sequence I watched, in my opinion, would be most effectively scored with a rising drum roll. And I think the show does have a drummer. Of course, nothing can match watching a circus act at the circus.

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

It is pretty fuzzy on youtube. The music was scored by Mike McClure, who has produced a few of todays hottest red dirt OK./TX. bands.(Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland, Lee Ann Womack) He and Joe Hardy (Producer of ZZ Top and Steve Earle) wanted to do something different for me then the everyday "Wheel Of Fortune"/ "Jeopardy" game show circus music. I felt they did a great job putting the music to the act they watched (which was possibly a little faster) and I am proud to use it every day. I thought hiring a musician to write something new and exclusive would be looked upon with high regard. I suppose I should break out The Vida Loca and conform with all those other acts,,,LOL

Wade G. Burck said...

Show Biz,
We learned a new British expression yesterday, that I suggest is appropriate for the CMC review:

"In England there is an expression "having a basin full" ..... meaning to have 'enough of' or a 'lot of', although it is usually used to denote something fairly negative ... "I've had a basin full of this nonsense"
Wade Burck

B.E.Trumble said...

I would write at length defending mudshows and suggesting that legitimate reviews aren't something any show should be afraid of, so long as context is accounted for, and the reviewer actually knows a bit about circus... However it's a very windy day in north western Oklahoma and I can't keep my hot water heater lit. Hats off to clowns! For the first time in many years all three Hugo based tent shows have genuinely talented, funny clowns...and not a whistle to be heard anywhere.

Showbiz David said...

We await your epistle, Ben.

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

The "other" Hugo shows clown...or should I say self proclaimed "World Renowned King Of Comedy" was at our show the other day Ben. He appeared to be of the "whistle blowing breed" but even if not,,,I had always took world renowned to mean "known of somewhere besides south eastern Oklahoma",,,,LOL


But two outta three Huggo shows aint to gosh darned bad rite?

Ben Trumble said...

Culpepper & Merriweather is literally buried beneath a fierce winter storm up here in the Panhandle in Canadian, TX. We couldn't make it to today's town with flying reindeer. Fingers crossed that we'll make tomorrow's town. But that's the charm of a mudshow this size, going to towns where a larger circus could not. A show like this has far more in common with wagon shows like the Rose Killian circus than it does with anything Mr. Feld has ever seen. But all circuses were wagon shows once upon a time. And that was the circus that audiences first loved, not quasi-Broadway productions with dancers and a singing ringmaster. A well performed single trap act is a well performed single trap act -- hopefully thrilling -- whether it's presented with a million dollar lighting system or in a tent that sometimes leaks. So what is the role of the critic? To judge the artist and the act, or the stage upon which it's presented? The artist, I would hope, otherwise the critic is taken in by spangles and flash. That's what I meant by context. All circuses should be more than willing to put their skills as performers to the test -- but a wagon show can't be held to the same standards of production as a large show with a bigger budget for stage equipment. Both shows are circuses, and the vast majority of the audience for both shows have a great time...even with the pitch for peanuts.

David, you may be alone in your judgment of the Fred Prowledge book on the Hoxie show in the early 1970's. It remains a pretty accurate portrait of the actual grind of a season. And working guys really were "colorful" in the days before H2B Visas. Writing about a show from the backyard or the backdoor is always going to be different than writing about a show from the seats. And spending a season on the show strips away the spin served up by circus executives. In the ring circus is about performing arts, but for 20 hours a day, whether it's Cirque, or Circo Osario it sin't about art, high or low, it's about life and logistics.

Carson & Barnes is indeed headed for California with the new European style four mast tent and the big single ring format. I belive they'll arrive pretty early.

Showbiz David said...

Thanks, Ben, for your updates. In essence, we are in agreement on the primal importance of the individual artist, no matter the context (although I believe both are important, ideally). As for the Prowledge book, I found it somewhat interesting but a downer. Sure, that's part of the circus, but far form all. I think it was a fair hit in the stores, probably sold far more than any of my books. Yes, I see C&B approaching Calif. dates. Excting!

Logan Jacot said...

I think Cirque du Soleil has proven that you still need need incredible acts to be an incredible show by their "100 Million Dollar Bomb" aka Believe. As far as I am concerned Circus Pages was 3 times as entertaining then Believe was. Cirque du Soleil has put a mediocre magic with mediocre circus acts with excellent special effects and the show still is a dud.

henry edgar said...

A circus review must be about the overall presentation. if a roof leaked in a broadway theater and the audience got wet, and it wasn't mentioned in the review, editors would ask why. and a leaking rook would definitely affect the show. for example dancers would not be able to dance well on a wet floor. the same holds true for circuses. who can expect an aerialist to risk their life on wet, soggy rigging? one of the greatest tragedies in our history involved wet rigging.

that said, the show itself has to be considered. i personally love the ringling production numbers, but whenever a tent show attempts production, in most cases it's not effective. (the exception: the cole show and the previous beatty-cole show, which have always done the best job of the tent shows in recent years of presenting shows with class under the big top)

at the same time, a great act is a great act whether in a building seating 20,000 people or a tent seating 100. again, presentation comes into play because sometimes an artist will say "it's only a one-horse town, why risk my life for 100 people?" that attitude deserves to be blasted. an audience of one deserves the same level of professionalism as an audience of 20,000. the real stars of the past did the same acts no matter where they were. that's a big part of being a star. i saw a beatty-cole show do a fast john robinson because of gangs congregating on the lot -- but the audience never saw anything wrong. for the most part, acts cut the opening parts -- they went right into the climax so it was still a great show. a short show doesn't mean you elimate the big tricks and that's something people need to be aware of -- if the act has any big tricks. when done right, a small mud show can be untimately much more entertaining than a big production. my complaint with small mud show performances is is lack of effort. "we can only afford three acts, so we go for the cheap acts that do more" instead of "just what do these three acts do?" one of the worst shows i have ever seen was a mud show that was very small but well-regarded as a "nice litle show." i wasn't upset by numbers; i was upset because the performers who were there did nothing.

at the same time, the most exciting show i've ever seen was a tiny mud show in the 60s with less that 10 performers -- but all 10 were stars. each act could have easily filled a ringling center ring. that's what circus is all about. quality will always win.

i can deal with pitches, i understand their importance, as long as they are used to augment income, or cover a prop change, i object to shows that look like the acts are a filler between pitches. the person making the pitch doesn't have to offensive. the great harry dann used to do the color book pich on beatty-cole -- and nobody complained. it was a few minutes of a great show, and presented by a great performer. it was a pitch, to be sure, but it didn't
sound like a grind show.

my thoughts on the powledge book? at one time, i came very close to working on that show, and it was very hard to say no when i finally had to. when i read the book, i thought thank god, i said no. i know that the book was accurate in depicting life on many small mud shows. but the difference in that account of a hoxie season and my own personal experience on a smaller mud show were the difference in night and day. it was a tiny show, life was not always perfect, but everyone was paid what they were promised, working conditions were not inhuman, there WAS a doniker, sleepers were clean and comfortable, cookhouse was good, basic salaries and condtions were about as good as they get on a mud show. i loved it and if that show, with the same management team were still around, i'd go back in a minute.

i know wome people really loved hoxie and had much better experiences than detailed in the book, just as some loved vargas and some hated vargas. i'm just happy i worked for the show i worked for so my memories of life on a mud show are very good. had i worked under conditions detailed in the book, i think i would have called home for money to leave early in the season.

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

Making our "Mecca" back to Huggo tonight for two big action packed shows. It will possibly be snowing when we arrive, and will surely be muddy and raining. Seven weeks into the season the show has tightened up alot.

B.E.Trumble said...

Still buried under the snowdrifts in TX Panhandle. Have seen snow cancell shows before, but I believe this is the first time I've been on a tent show literally stranded for several days by a nasty blizzard.

There are still shows where the owner can't be bothered with rental toilets for the workers or dumpsters for the trash. The difference between those owners and Hoxie Tucker is basically greed. I don't think Tucker ever intended to cheat anyone, or mistreat anyone. In the 70's and 80's John Strongs show had no cookhouse, no showers, etc - and he was much loved by his guys. Different standards.