The Little Circus That Could ... Highest Rated of Them All on Yelp

The Little Circus That Could ... Highest Rated of Them All on Yelp
Currently Reigning Champion at 4-1/2 Stars, Zoppe Family Circus Wins the Crowds with Heart-Warming Tradition

Sunday, April 14, 2024

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Kelly-Miller Update: Fire Destroys Truck ... Boffo Biz Rules ... North II, High on Ownership, Due to Rejoin Show for 2008 Production Talks ...

Let’s first clear the smoke away. Climbing up a long steep grade, a Kelly-Miller sleeper pulling a seat wagon caught fire and was totally destroyed. Occupants Michael Harber (the show’s musical director) and K-M school teacher David Schwartz came out of it okay ...On went the show ...

Tomorrow’s Promise Rising: Due in on July 30 is owner John Ringling North II, buzzing with ideas for next season’s tour. "He has some definite plans,." reports show manager Jim Royal. Next year’s route is to be hashed out. Also slated for revamping is their customer-unfriendly website. And North II Plans to spend more days on the lot next year....

"He is thoroughly enjoying his new role as circus owner," reports Royal. That includes being a hands-on sort of guy. The staff and fans are finding John Ringling North’s nephew to be down to earth, friendly, accessible, and even amusing. ‘He has a very positive outlook," says Royal, "and a great sense of humor." Upon hearing of the truck fire, North’s first concern was for the welfare of Harber and Schwartz. Get them into the "Jomar," he said. Get their damaged belongings replaced ...

The animals are also getting a warm shoulder from their new big top boss.. When the show's expecting llama miscarriaged, North II and wife Shirley, ranchers in Ireland, administered anti-biotic injections ... Now, if Kelly-Miller needs a vet dent, they might call up Baraboo’s kindly retired dentist, Bob Dewel. He’s an all-purpose kind of guy ... In fact, he's waiting back there in the wings to make a cameo ...

Ringmaster and performance director John Moss has been tinkering with the program. Lights have been upgraded, a new sound system purchased.. All good signs of corporate health, kids...

During North’s ten-day visit, he will travel with the circus to Kelly’s Island. The circus goes there annually via ferry. Islanders are dockside, waiting full of cheer. Full houses are the rule...

America’s newest circus owner is on the phone with Royal several times a week. He’s got sawdust in his blood if you ask me ....So far, so good?


Big Top Add-Ons: "I am proud to be one of the three people who read your biog," e-mails one of my staunch visitors. And, I have a fourth! That would be above-mentioned Bob of Baraboo, who wishes to turn my trio of fans into a quartet of, what, groupies? ... I feel their incessant push; gosh, this attention will kill me ... Summer is a bizzy time for Bob: He conducts daily tours at the Al Ringling Theatre, favors the lucky with his superb keyboard pipe organ recitals, gives speeches about town and hosts impromptu family reunions... Summer has been too slow for our Bob, who longs for full houses. He did get something of a lift when fifty people showed up for "the tour." ... Later on, though, around midnight, Harry Potter on the big screen was playing to four times that many ...

Let’s see, Bob, you play keyboard and you can drill? Do llamas ever need root canals?

First posted July 16, 2007 / first year posting

Friday, April 05, 2024

Costumes in Bloom at the Circus: Another Chance to Win a Free Copy of My New Book, Keep That Day Job!



 Clues: When Ringling honored Mother Nature in one of its more unusual parades, costume design through the eyes of a famed artist.  Name the spec and the year presented.

Post your answer in the form of a comment.  You must give a name, either your own or a nickname. Your answer will never be posted.

All answers must be posted here by noon, Friday, April  19, when the winner will then be announced.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Present Tense Tenuous: When Ringling Played the Garden. ... When Garden Beat Ringling on Yelp ... When Hybrid Circuses Feature Trans Dogs ... Hold Onto Your Aerial-Plane Seat!

      When the elephants paraded to Madison Square Garden in the 1950s

      SPRING IS HERE, so they say, and  I shiver as never before, wondering where  “global warming”ever went. I ask a smug wokish friend who impatiently replies, “No, it’s now climate change” But hasn’t the climate always been changing? Was there not once an Ice Age, not caused, I assume, by gas pumps on the moon?

     IN MY ADVANCED kiddiehood when the climate evidently never changed,  nothing could  match the excitement of reading about the spring arrival of  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at  Madison Square Garden. I thrillingly read in The Billboard of the  latest new wonders,  new production numbers, costumes.  John Ringling North loaded the rings with “First Time in America” imports. Grandma in Brooklyn sent me news clippings.  

Marlene Dietrich, John Ringling North, and Gloria Vanderbilt at a gala Garden opening in the 1950s'

     THEY CALLED IT The Big One, Big Bertha, The Big Show.  And some seasons they packed all 14,000 seats in the Garden on the best of days during a six-week run.                           

      FAST FORWARD to the grey sinking present: The new Ringing acrobatic show played three days across the Brooklyn Bridge at the new Barclays’ Center.  Count ‘em, THREE. And of the twenty New York critics who reviewed Water for the Elephants on Broadway, not a one of them reviewed Ringing.  Why? Has anybody out there an answer?  Has anybody out there a pulse?

     DEFERRING TO DUBIOUS showmanship,  I might Lyft it up to Vallejo (CA) when Garden Bros Nuclear Circus works the town (and would I go nuclear, too?).  Last time I can recall getting suckered into a Garden concession pit, it was Sterling and Reid at the Cow Palace. I walked out at intermission.  Canada may have given us Cirque.  It also gave us Dick Garden, whose  tent, dazzling to behold in photos, is now drawing slightly better Yelp reviews than Ringling.  No, I don’t make these things up.  What I see in video teases are streams of fairly basic though solid-appearing acts.

     AROUND MOST AMERICAN rings these timid times,  it is no longer quite the ever-changing, never-changing circus as once defined by my favorite circus writer, Earl Chapin May.  Less varied.  Less risk-taking.  Less real. AI (hate those letters) knows no limits out here in the State of Insanity.  Down in LA, they’re giving the OK to driver-less cars (as opposed to cars driven by drivers who can’t drive) I feel sorry for the Lyft drivers who share with me their fear of being replaced by chips at the wheel, and  I can hear the hurt in their voices. Are the ultimate outcomes of this obsession what we really want?  Allow me for deferring to the smartest thing I have heard from the mouth of a world leader in decades:

     “IF IT’S POSSIBLE TO USE HUMAN LABOR, do not use machines and mobilize local residents to do the jobs” — Chinese premiere Xi Jinping.

          ONTO THE FLASHING platforms of New Ringling.  Kenneth Feld might take a crack at becoming The Greatest AI produced Show on Earth.  He’s got that fake dog, and I’m wondering if he’ll  re-sign it for next season (assuming there is to be one), maybe give the mut a trans partner?  Media adoration guaranteed.  BTW; How do you “celebrate”  someone’s’ sex change unless they wear a badge revealing it?  How about, then, a retro-hertero coming out day?  Hopelessly Straight Heathens on Parade?  
     LESS AUTHENTIC EVERYWHERE.   I look for a certain safety wire attached to a certain Cirque du Soleil aerialist currently appearing in a TV ad. And then receive a relevant e-mail from Sir Douglas of McPherson, over yonder Pond,  recounting his recent interview with a Cirque performer. She told him, “In training we wear a harness. In the show, the harness is off and you just go for it!”

     HO HO, NO NO.

     ROBOT RINGMASTERS?  Robot Critics? (please, no cracks). Circuses may be going hybrid on us – part human, part other.  For kinky laughs, our new faceless clowns could spoof wild mishaps in the technologically challenged air these days --  mad airplanes fraught with runaway parts, leaving passengers stuck to the ceiling, others gasping for air, while a recorded voice says, “You may claim your soul upon check out.”

     HOW LIKE A SCENE in a nightmare sci-fi flick pitting the emerging power of AI against a human society no longer able to control it. AI scripted.   AI scored  And before that world blows itself up, let me list the star ratings for three circuses, as recently reviewed by Yelp consumers, assumed to be real.
    Zoppe Family Circus
             4-1/2 stars
 Garden Bros. Nuclear Circus.
           2 stars

The Greatest Show on Earth
         1-1/2 stars

It may end not with a bang, but a bum review.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Contest Results for Free Copy of My New Book: Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad

      Name the circus that used a jazz band to score the show

  The answer


Have we an answer? Yes, we have.  Only one person got it right, although of the others who gave it a shot,  a few came close. One answered, "Sid Kellner's James Bros Circus".  Another guessed simply "Vargas." There is merit to that last answer, for during the mid-1980s, when Circus Vargas was at its peak in performance quality,  Cliff had a  five or six piece band, richly orchestrated, that included a number more jazzy or jazz-driven compositions.  

Sid hired a real jazz band to score his 1972 show, a group of young musicians from the local Alhambra High School in Martinez, CA, the town out of which he operated. (Incidentally, I worked publicity for a few of the Chicago dates.)  This came as a total surprise to me, and by accident.  I was googling to verify that Sid had headed up a B24 bomber fighter crew during WWII, and came upon a Facebook with a photo of the musicians in front of the bus, especially equipped to serve as their sleeper during the tour.  The image is so dark, I have left it up to my publisher to decide whether it should be included in the book. .

So, who got the answer right? Drum roll, please!  Colin Carter

Congratulations, Colin!  Send me your address by e-mail. The book is now in production, and I'm guessing it will be out in summer or early fall.




           There he is, the one and only Sid: top row, second from left.                                      .





Thursday, March 28, 2024


Next Tuesday, April 2, NOON PDT, I will announce the results of my contest for a free copy of my forthcoming book,  Keep That Day Job!  How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad

There is still time to enter!   

The question:  Name the  American Circus that used a jazz band to play for its show?

You still have until midnight, April 1, to participate.  Your answers will NOT be posted here.

If you do not wish to reveal your name, use a unique nickname. 

Due Soon After:  The Next Big Question

This one for Ringlingphiles 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Circus and Broadway: Rarely Do They Click ...New Musical, Water for Elephants, Faces Troubling Reception

The reviews are out, and they're wildly mixed.  Show has New York Times and The Daily News (Chris Jones) cheering -- against jeering of other heavyweights like: USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and Rex Reid at The Observer

On the fence are The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly

The movie, of which I am no fan, rates 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.  

In recent years, Cirque du Soleil's efforts to conquer the Great White Way were met with spectacular failure. Another show that flew high on circus rigging, and then slowly crash landed, was Spiderman.

The one notable exception is Barnum, a big rousing hit with a fail-safe score from Cy Coleman.  Show enjoyed a three year run. Unlike Water, I don't recall circus acts coming even close to stealing the show.

The smash Hugh Jackman movie, The Greatest Showman, would seem to have been a good bet to beat the odds, and as I recall, they tried taking it on the road as a prospective Broadway musical.  In fact, the show is still actively in the works at Disney, said to be eyeing a possible Broadway premiere in 2024.

 By and large, The Great White Way does not seem to be a good fit. Circus and theater are two very different animals.  Billy Rose's Jumbo in the 1930s at the 5,000 seat Hippodrome gave New Yorkers the tale of a circus on the edge of insolvency. The show  included real circus acts, and was, best of all, graced with wonderful Rodgers and Hart songs, among them,  The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, My Romance, and Little Girl Blue. John Murray Anderson, who would years later direct Ringling Bros. Circus, directed the 233 performance run of Jumbo, a respectable number for the day (Babes in Arms ran for 289 performances).  But Rose's exorbitant expenses spelled an early end.

As for today, my best guess is this: When the average tourist or family goes to New York, they are not going there to see circus.  And if there is one redeeming attribute in Water, from fast scanning the reviews, it appears to be, ironically,  the acrobats!

But you never know. Wicked got scathing reviews and is  still running. Hair was panned by all the critics but Hair had a gimmick: Nudity.  What has Water?

Broadway does not feel like a destination for circus going.

I'll take Big Apple Circus at Cunningham Park in Queens, any day.

P.S. Including reviews from unfamiliar sources that I did not include, there were a total of 19. And none of them took a look at the new Ringing? 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Wall Street Journal Walks Water for the Felds at their New "Better Smelling" Greatest Show on Earth ...

Those cunning Felds  have managed to  bring off another non-circus review of the show that may feel to some like a review.  Credit a mutual love fest between the Felds and the The Wall Street Journal's Ben Cohen.

Though he rarely contributes a review-like statement, Cohen is implicitly high on the product.

You will learn, a surprise to Cohen, that Ringling's re-invention is perfectly in step with precedent. To learn this, he consulted with Matthew Wittman, curator of the Harvard Theater Collection to learn "something about circus I wasn't expecting to hear:  'Historically, the circus has involved a lot of innovation."

Writes Cohen:  "The key to Ringling's comeback is not just that it is more humane.  The Circus is now more human."

And, oh, how much lovelier to the senses: "their workplace smells better."

Give them credit for pressing Feld on the bottom line: "The privately held company declined to provide financial information about the tour, although Feld says he's pleased with ticket sales."

The story lends the impression of a show venturing into far off places to find talent.  For this revelation, quoted is J. Vaught, senior vice president of production and touring operations: "You have to look in places where people haven't looked."

They've been doing that for years.

I have to wonder why Cohen did not note the absence of the word "circus" in the show's legendary title, a word he frequently drops, and ask why?

Oh, of course, might have spoiled the feel-good tribute.

Thanks to Don Covington for the link.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Back on the Ringling Watch: Show Packs Barclays Center, Says One in the Know -- Average Rating on on Yelp, Updated: 1-1/2 Stars ...

UPDATE:  Don Covington sent me the New York Times article on the new Ringling.  Turns out, it was not a review, but a feature about how the new show came to be.  Why the Times will not review is very puzzling.  Thank you, Don!


Fastly trying to catch up, having heard the show "strawed 'em" over a three day stand in Barclays, once again I set out on the review trails to see what I could find. About the same as before.   Show did pull, at last, what appears to be a real newspaper review, from the Orlando Sentinel, and a good one, from what I could see before being blocked by the "sign up" gate.   And I find a review on March 2 in the New York Times, but I can't read it, nor is there mention of it on the Ringling website.

Here, totally copied and pasted,  is a string of reviews on Yelp. Some I may have already posted.

Start Yelping, America!

Not just missing the Animals and the Clowns but the voice of the Ringmaster ???? Couldn’t see the screens and lights blocked many views! Not four our 3.1/2 yr old grandson…. He was asking where’s the clowns and elephants??? Why not include some animatronics ? Just sad and expensive

2.0 star rating Anonymous from Houston, Texas


I was thinking Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the circus of all circuses. I was wrong. Arabia Shrine Circus was much bigger, had more and just seemed overall better, and it's a quarter of the price. I won't go to another Ringling Bros again.

1.0 star rating Merlotsmom from Bossier city La


All we saw was acrobats swinging back and forth, the worst CLOWN show ever, and a fake robot dog. I wish I had my money back. The tickets were not worth the price we paid and the show was a pathetic two ring mess. Our Shriners circus is way better!

1.0 star rating Jere from Chicago, Illinois


False advertisement. Not a circus at all, more musical than anything. Total disgrace, all it was were acrobatics and dancers with lil talent. Clowns was horrible no tricks or shocking entertainment. The host(main speaker) was lip singing, sounded like it was pre recorded. No motorcycles or animals like lions tigers n elephants but they had a fake robo dog which was TRASH!!Food horrible. NEVER!! Gotta do better. Do yo homework on universal sol circus

1.0 star rating Debbie from Kansas City


The circus was a complete disappointment. Not one animal (not even a dog) and no clowns. Kids were restless with singing and drums. Will not be going again.

1.0 star rating Denis from jacksonville florida


I wouldn't go again. It is not circus anymore and the show is nothing special...acrobat shows that you saw hundred times already, cheesy Disney like singing of was boring and not worth the money.

Photo of Andrea W.
Andrea W.
Jan 7, 2024

Just not the same. Plus $35 for cotton candy $14 for crushed flavored ice in a cup !!! Hello !!
The ringmaster at Amalie Arena was mediocre and none of the clowns could get the crowd 'going'
I am sad our grandsons will really not know 'the circus' with its wonderful smells sights and acts! But happy our grown daughters (41/39/26/33) all did. Year after year after year. And so on !
Times they are changing -for sure!!
Photo of Melba P.
Melba P.
Chicago, IL
Nov 7, 2023

BORING!! Bring back the animals!

This was a subpar Disney performance at best.

I did enjoy the acrobats and highwire performances, though.
Photo of Mark I.
Mark I.
Jan 27, 2024

It's really not a circus. No animals, no clowns, just an acrobatic show. My kid was very bored. Plus a popcorn and cotton candy cost $34. Complete disappointment. Do not waste your money and time.
Photo of Cindy I.
Cindy I.
Nov 5, 2023

Lamest show on earth!! No clowns and no animals made no fun for the kids! The "new approach to the circus" was not good enough to have the Ringling Brothers legacy! Don't waste your money on this, but go to a rodeo instead for great entertainment with animals and clowns and authentic danger!
Photo of Mike O.
Mike O.
Belle Isle, FL
Jan 14, 2024

After reading the first review of this, I was actually expecting to see a circus. Let's make it clear, Bello Nock, elephants, trained animals of any kind, or any talent worth paying to see was missing from the performance. Exception: 3 girls doing impressive contortions and balancing. This must be an old review or a very fake review that is listed as the first review. Here's what the show was not. It is not a circus. It is definitely not the greatest show on earth. And you don't have to be someone who has been to an actual circus back in the Glory Days when you had animals, talent, clowns, exciting acts to watch. Nothing here was equal to your standard street performer that you would see down at the Key West sunsetfest every night, or during Mardi Gras in New orleans. There was a lot of stuff going on but nothing exceptional, no animals, people clowning around but they weren't dressed up as clowns, and a sorry b team or even c team Tina Turner like I guess you would call ringleader. Definitely not a circus. Quite the disappointment.
Photo of Robert H.
Robert H.
Excelsior Springs, MO
Nov 12, 2023

Save your money.. I bought the tickets so my wife and I could take my 3 year old grandson after he had his second open heart surgery. The show lacked a lot. There was a lot going on all the time but not very entertaining. The sound system sucked, the acts were at times boring and pretty uneventful. We left shortly after intermission. Wished I could have that $200 back again..
Photo of Maggie C.
Maggie C.
Collinsville, IL
Dec 17, 2023

this was a very disappointing show. there were no clowns, animals, and very little actual circus performances. it was about 80% just singing and very bad dancing. I'm sorry, but singing and dancing is not a circus. it's a show I would not recommend or ever go to again.
Photo of Michael S.
Michael S.

END OF STREAM, back to me.

What were they to expect?  Hasn't the circus that dare not speak its name -- removed its name?  It's a show, stupid!

From the photos/videos I have seen, biz looks very good ... 

Most interesting/telling Yelp comment to me is this: "the show is nothing special" 

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Win a Free Copy of My Forthcoming Book --- Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad



For those posting anonymously, please re-post as follows: After posting your answer, leave a distinctive user name that  no others could have used, such as Cotton Andy, Rosin Rosie.  If you are the winner, I will make known your user name, and you will e-mail me directly to provide a name and address for sending out the book, and I will not disclose this information to others. 

Be the first to name the American circus that one season hired a high school jazz band to provide music for the show.

Post your answer in the comments section below; all answers will be kept secret and not posted until the winner is revealed.

I came upon this rather extraordinary event by sheer accident, while gathering photos for the book.

You have 30 days, contestants.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Techno INSANE: When Even the Operator is No Longer Available ... We Embrace Extreme Technology at Our Own Risk

This morning, I called The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, hoping to obtain information about photo reprints for my new book, Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad.

I dialed several numbers, one finally gave me the option of pressing O for operator. But even that person was not available -- I'd have to leave a message!!!

It's a nightmare world we seem to be slowly slipping into.  People preferring virtual reality to in--person  contact.  Suicide rates among the young rising.  A nation increasingly submerged in more drugs, massive streams of them crossing the southern boarders and causing death to thousands. Social media streams urban mayhem, major media laps it all up.

Whenever I call Comcast, I end up screaming into my phone TALK TO AN OPERATOR!... TALK TO AN OPERATOR! ... TALK TO AN OPERATOR!

Finally, so far, their AI voices relent, and put me through.

To a call I made a while back to Wells Fargo ,needing to renew a CD,  a voice answered.  "I will be your virtual assistant"   What was going on there?  Maybe with Comcast,  but Wells Fargo?  I had to ask,"Are you a robot?"

He chuckled and assured me he was not, gave his name, and fleshed himself out, and we talked, and the conversation seemed real. Seemed.

One day, it may not be.

Sick.  Sick. Sick.

SANITY IN CHINA? The last word to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, who recently issued an order to one of the regions, to wit: If you have jobs by robots that can be done by humans, hire humans.