Monday, October 29, 2007

Fall of Circus Ginnett Blamed on "Stupidest Regulations" Dooming Brit Big Tops

In a Covington Flash comes news that Britain's Circus Ginnett, run by the Austin Family, with a performing history in European rings reaching back over two hundred years, has folded its tent for good.
The reason: Costly and time-consuming new licensing government regulations as well as pending bans on "some animals in circuses." Said Liza Austin, co operator with her husband Mike, to The London Daily Telegraph, "It just isn't worth it anymore. We're going to France and Italy to find work. They are more appreciative of circuses there."
And how ironic is that? The circus as we know it was founded in London! Tis also true, kids, that for well over a century, a Brit version of PETA has been at work, out to liberate the menagerie back to the jungle. They may prevail yet...
A pair of Ginnett brothers (originally spelled Jinnett) were giving shows in France in the 1750s.
Sounds like the big top blues extends well across the Atlantic ... Following the Second World War, 50 tenters toured the British aisles. Now the number is around 20 and shrinking.
"We work under the stupidest regulations that have ever come about," said Ginnett's ringmaster, Martin Lacey.
Amen to that.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wild Elephants and Cursed Eateries: Chaos and Calamity from India to Barabooooooo....

Your showbiz scrambler features foundering tycoons, a 4-star Canadian Fiasco, Wild elephants on a tear, Cursed Kitchens and Creepy Organ Music ... And Away We Goooooooooooo! ...

Disney Fights To Save More Disappearing Magic: ... Down there in the Magic Kingdom, the also-ran next-door California Adventure was a fizzle from the get-go. Burbank big shots plan to sink another 1.1 billion into the paltry park to make it more, well, more Disney. Adventure cost a billion to build; another million for post-opening extras that still failed to lure the Mickey Mouse masses ...Bad first impressions are hellishly hard to overcome ....

Canadian Circus Bites the Sawdust: First reported by Circusnews.com, up at Niagara Falls, Ontario, the collapse of another new-wave big top humbles fallible producers. Cirque X, parent of Cirque Niagara which staged a show named Avaia, now in bankruptcy and nearly 7 million in debt. Ouch du Soleil! Opened in may last year in a 60,000 square-foot tent in Rapidsview Park. First year tix sales boffo at 5 million; not so this year, down to 2.7 mil. Producers claim relentless raves all the way greeted the parade of imported Cossack riders, acrobats and the like from Mr. Putin’s ominously reascending Russia. Anybody out there ever heard of Avaia? They’re blaming the flop on plunging tourist trade. Reasons, we always need them ...

Wild Elephants Terrify Towners: 100 --- count 'em, 100 --- Indian bulls in a party mood swam to a river island in northeast India and rampaged about, knocking down homes like toothpick huts, feasting on sugar cane and terrifying helpless villagers. Clyde Beatty, a world whirling out of control needs you, your whip and chair!

"Retrieved" Animals Tossed Off Bridge; Here's another act you won't see at any circus, anytime soon: Cats and dogs seized by “animal control workers” (what a moronic oxymoron) and hurled off a bridge into a watery abyss below. This from Barceloneta in sunny Puerto Rico. City hired an outfit named Animal Control Solution to rid housing projects of mutes and puffers barred from the premises. Each retrieved animal earned its killer a nifty $60, another $100 for a drop off at a shelter that evidently remains animal free. “Irresponsible, inhuman and shameful,” says the mayor. And what say ye, PETA? Oh, that’s right, just as long as they aren’t spared for spangles and spotlights, death in any form is a noble end. Did anybody ever show PETA what the world is like under the ocean?

Creepy Eateries Cry Out for
Brit Make Overs:
Restaurants from Hell supply the laughing and laughable angle for yet another reality tv tease called Kitchen Nightmares. Chef Gordon Ramsey takes charge of inept cooks and servers, teaching them how to replace warmed over garbage with haute cuisine. The episode I saw at the Old Stone Mill around PA (surely, no restaurant could be this bad?) showcased owner Dean’s fear of failure, taken on by our interventionist chef, who proceeded to convert the hapless cookhouse from spooky purveyor of kinky dishes to standard steak house. Fun, farcical and fake all the way.

Baraboooooo oooo oooo! At the force-darkened Al Ringing Theatre tomorrow night, keyboard virtuoso Bob Dewel will pump terrifying tones (“crashing organ music”) into the theatre where adults can stumble around in the dark through a spooky Halloween walk. Also on the thrill bill: Al Ringling’s will to be read aloud by somebody from one of the boxes on high. How Gothic ... How creaky. Doc Dewel concedes, “Pretty amateur stuff.” Heck and oooooo, so are a lot of the best Halloween movies. The Al Ringling almost looks haunted without special effects. Ooops, sorry, Doc ... No, please, don't curse me with root canal nightmares for saying that!...

And that’s a Baraboo ooo ooo wrap ... ooo oooooo ...

Friday, October 12, 2007

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Friday Night Flip Flops: Trivia (or Trauma) on Parade! ...

Steroids in Spangles? You may have heard of a certain baseball player named Bonds, a big deal across the bay in ironically provincial San Francisco. His final at-bats at the ballpark were mourned like nothing I can recall since Big Bertha herself (aka: Ringling-Barnum – are you with us, Craig?) gave up the canvas ghost in Pittsburgh, PA back in 1956 ... Never mind that Mr. Bonds is likely a steroid cheat, which is a long run-in to my wondering aloud: Do Great Circus Stars juice up too? .... Let’s see, the majestic marvel in motion Miguel Vazquez, a rail thin flyer. Juggler Alex Chimal, quite compact ... Sylvia Zerbini, lithe and taut. I’d rue the day when we see hideously bulked up ring stars. Not Codona. Not Bello. Not the hoop divers from Asia aplenty ... Circus, stay fit!

Tricks, that’s what we pay to see, Mr. Big Top Boss.. Having been stood up at Circus Vargas by its headliner owners -- the Tabares Flyers who landed Monte Carlo gold and hype it to the heavens (they delivered a few modest tricks and then headed for the net in haste) I can suddenly appreciate the tyrannical demands of circus owners like John Ringling and Cliff Vargas, both variously known for throwing fits when their imperial darlings failed to deliver the goods... Heck, they will tell you that Mr V. hid out under the seats to secretly monitor the performance and fumed in the aftermath when facing lazy leapers and errant elephants ... As for Mr. John, he is said to have thrown cigar ashes in anger over the deletion of a single trick –- and we are talking circus tricks, thank you.... Which gives me grateful respect for both Ringling and Vargas. Crispy creme breaks may be okay for lawyers and dish washers on parole. NOT okay for acclaimed aerialists ...

The animals, juiced up? What an unkind and insulting thought. My apologies, dogie kingdom and kitty green room. These days, the mutes and the puffers (and disappearing lions and pachyderms) are pouring their hearts out to entertain us as once the entire show did. Hint, hint, Tabares — take a look at your own menagerie and recall when you might have dedicated each and every program to wowing the crowds, however small. ... The animal stars remind us of circus essential. They hold their own without makeup, mist or video replay.

Meanwhile, while a nation of pit bulls keeps the populace in a state of terror and bloody sadistic dog fights continue apace, well-cared-for circus animals continue to drive the animals rights crowd nuts. Up in Minneapolis, where the council came close to outlawing animal acts, Ned Kronberg (CFA’s Minnesota State Chairman) recounts how one overbearing PETA fanatic, in this case a lone city councilman, can steal the debate, in effect shutting down the other side. Listen here! “He dominated most of the discussions and when any one tried to present an opposite side, tried to end their discussion with lots of questions but would not let them really answer, but tried answering for them.” ..... That is exactly what John Pugh often faces, he told me during an interview. All it takes is one noisy apple; and your whole crate is near damned....

Big Apple Basics: What Washington Post critic Celia Wren most liked about this year’s new Big Apple Circus, on its way soon to Gotham, was a certain lack of mystic pretense. “What makes Celebrate! particularly refreshing is that the artists routines have not been tethered to some smart-alecky concept.” Go, Apple, go! Will “concepts” run their course. If audiences see more of them and less real circus action, I’d say YES.

And from Baraboo Barb, gliding down a golden trail on Ringling’s Gold unit, comes a shared regret. Scanning my grudging review of Circus Vargas left her a tad down: ”I feel sad as well that the Tabares weren’t up to their usual spectacular selves. They can be magnificent. Sigh.” Insider Barb references show-disrupting Stork calls. Yasmin, who works the roman rings, is due to have a baby “any time soon.” So is, if I understand Barb correctly, Yasmin’s fill-in on the rings, Katya. Barb offers a softer matronly perspective: “Try it again next season ... babies will be born, mom’s will be back in shape hopefully.” And, hopefully, not juiced up, as in Bonds.

By the way, Barb is enshrined in the Baraboo Hall of Circus Fame, notes Bob Dewel, the town's all-purpose docent. Back there at Ringlingville, things are not yet as Brigadoon-sleepy as I've previously hinted. “We haven’t rolled up the sidewalks yet,” says Bob.

And we trust that Doc Bob is not, in his ever-active retirement, hawking steroids to wire walkers or bow-wow acrobats. Stick to crowns for clowns, okay, Doc?

first posted October 12, 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Whirlwind Tumblers, Jugglers, Cats and Dogs Power a Padded and Slim Circus Vargas

Circus Review

Culver City, California, Fox Hills Mall, October 6 at 2 p.m. $40.00 top.

Entering the new Circus Vargas tent, I was struck by an enchantment I can’t recall feeling since I entered the Ringling-Barnum big top in 1955: a stunning image of blue canvas reaching skyward into a sublime darkness, silver cables in symmetrical arrangement, a quietness all around promising something magical and great.

They have the setting. They have an inviting midway. Good reasonable ticket prices. They have a classy staff, a winning web site design, and they express a sincere intention to revive a circus whose heyday came and went over twenty years ago. All they need now is the show. They are, with regrets I have to report, not all the way there yet, and the road ahead should be no less difficult than it was for founding dynamo, Cliff Vargas.

At its classiest, the new edition of Circus Vargas, produced by the Tabares flyers — now in their second season as owners — rides high on whirlwind tumbling, whether off a casting net, across a trampoline or around horizontal bars. Juggling, a secondary asset, opens the show on a high-voltage note. First, Jonathan dazzles in class a mode spinning and manipulating variously shaped silver cubes; then, in quick succession, a juggler, working fairly standard stuff, keeps the pace alive with speed and gusto. Two acts in a row — could it be, are we about to see a program totally unencumbered by concession pitches, overhead video distractions, or inanely half-baked story lines that go nowhere?

No, it can’t. What follows are nagging slowdowns when ringmaster Ted McRae pitches intermission photo ops or the clowns wear out a welcome mat. Filler. One centers around McRae’s live Python snake, introduced out of a black sack along the aisle. Other commercials push flashlights and more photo ops. Then there is the hyperactive approach taken by McRae, who takes old line oratory over the top. A good singer, he does a fine job selling an original number during the opening parade, but his labored efforts throughout the program only reinforce the impression of a skimpy enterprise being padded for time.

More momentary highlights: Marinelli’s trampoline workouts are exhilarating. So are the Yeromenkos from the Ukraine whirling around a trio of horizontal bars.

Vargas gives the Euro-centric clowns (including a funny band) plenty of time to please, and their antics seem to keep the moppets giggling. How good? I found myself giggling too — now and then — at some fairly amusing stuff a bit musty and tired at the edges. One of the comedy turns is a mock bullfighter, Mendoza, working with a dog standing in for the bull. This serves also as a set up for another intermission photo op. Performers wear multiple hats. The Argentine clown Pocho, a come-in charmer with illusion, turns into a balloon salesman at interval time.

The real ring stealers, though, are a prima cat and dog courtesy of another of those Russians, this one Vladimir, who have a miraculous way with getting furry pets to carry on like eccentric humans. The cat is a wonder, evidently in control of its own tail for posturing purposes, and able to roll about this way and that on cue. The dog waves his front paws for an extended period of time to the music. A pair of incredible delights. Loved ‘em! Let’s see, world, are the animals going out of their way these days to tell us, “Let us back in, American circus, for we can save the show!”

Other pace-retarding elements: hula hoops that do not impress and sluggish prop changes between acts. Nor does a taped soundtrack consisting mostly of intense disco-styled drone distinguish the program much. Only two acts, Jonathan’s cube juggling and the terrifically impressive Yeromenkos, work against the humdrum musical grain with music that feels contemporary yet not of the outside world.

Missing in action: Not just any wild animal acts or horses, but nothing in the air. (The Osmani Sisters, who work silk webs, did not appear. Neither did Roman Ring artist Yasmin or Juan’s circus ballet.) Are we merely at the end of a losing season marked by early exits? I’d hate to think so. How odd that a circus owned by flyers should offer nothing over sawdust. Ah, but you ask, how about the champion Tabares? They open the second half, commanding a ringmaster’s just bombast, “Winners of the Gold Clown at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival in 2004!”

This, I knew, was a moment worth traveling hundreds of miles to see. I sat right under the end net and what a thrill to watch them swooping through the air while they worked routine warm-up stuff and inserted flash and flair. I think I saw a single somersault, unlikely a double. And now — can you believe this ---- they are heading for the net! I was left utterly dumbfounded. Never have I seen so pitifully little accomplished on the flying return, and this from Monte Carlo Gold? When I cornered McRae on my way out, he told me “they definitely cut some stuff this morning.” This morning? Pardon me, the show began at 2 p.m.

Heck, they cut the entire act. An unpardonable sin these flyers would dare not commit were they not also their own bosses. What might have been a moment of redeeming glory was thrown to the nets. The next time the Tabares decide to crack a whip at under performing employees, the first to hear it should be themselves.

Want to see the Tabares in top flight form? Watch a video of them impress the Monte Carlo judges on the Vargas website, or call ahead to see if they might be in the mood to try impressing you.

The new Circus Vargas is in many ways like the old (or in limbo) Circus Chimera. Maybe, at most, a quarter of the seats were filled. No program magazine or sheet for sale, and several acts a no-show. Unlike Chimera, not a trace of advertising. A couple sitting behind me with their daughter said that had they not noticed the tent in the Fox Hills Mall parking lot, they would not have known there was a circus in their town.

And unlike Chimera, Vargas gives one a magnificent big top setting to remember. Sadly, under it during a heavily padded couple of meandering hours, simply too little happened.

Overall grade: **

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Showbiz Showdown in Gotham — Little Tops Go to War ... Broadway’s Big Guns Test Troubled Tuners on Rocky Road ...Will South Pacific Soar Again?

What a lip-smacking good season looms ahead for surly sideliners like me ... A neat preview in the New York Times spills beans on two mega musicals failing to turn gush from out-of-town critics, both Broadway-bound shows flashing powerhouse names: Mel Brooks (The Producers) is back — or hacking back with his latest home-made tuner (in which he concocts his own tunes) — Young Frankenstein, now polishing his cakewalk out of town. The singing monster failed to ring every critic’s rattle in Seattle. Hmmmm. I wonder if Brooks, an amateurish tunesmith, is a one-score kind of guy? Brooks revived musical comedy. Question might be, can he revive vaudeville?

Disney’s Drowning Mermaid? Trouble in kiddie land began when Tarzan flew to Broadway and got all tangled up in a lot of scenery and — more scenery. Public not charmed. First Disney flop, that. ... Here comes the next?... Mermaid’s first dip under water in Denver nearly capsized, hardly rescued by a scathing pan from Variety’s man on-the-spot. Local critics, kinder, although some harboring same mouth-dropping reservations. Lifeguard, please! ... What shocks me is to read of a dozen new songs composed by Alan Menken, who also scored the movie with his late great partner Howard Ashman. They delivered a wondrous set of songs, so why all these add-ons? A glut of melody suggests an over-wrought script signifying too big a pool, or just plain professional desperation.

Nobody stands tall forever on the Great White Way. Forty-Second Street minus another Disney blockbuster could spell the return of the garden variety porno that thrived where George M. Cohan once sang before Beauty and the Beast arrived .... Beauty, by the way, is gone — as all of you trend-setters who read this blog (well, all five of you out there) will smugly know.

Circus! Didn’t mean to slight the war of the big tops. Big Apple uncorks its latest, a 30th anni bash at Lincoln Center, and not too far down Broadway comes about the same time that monster Genius from north of the border. Cirque du Soliel’s latest, Wintuk something about a young man in search of something, moves into the theatre at Madison Square Garden for a long run largely overlapping Big Apple’s. And the same show is slated to run for 10 weeks each winter the next five years! ... Garden big shots, unenchanted of late with Ringless brothers in free fall, had been angling for a slice of the Montreal magic. ... Anybody care to remember when the Big One sometimes packed ‘em in during five- and six - week seasons at the old bold Garden?

Post Update Flash: That's not all, folks! Here comes the gifted ringmaster (formerly of Universoul Circus) -- Casual Cal onto the stage of the Apollo in Harlem, beginning November 23, with his brand new Get Your Circus On! Promises a wild mix of acrobats and illusionists, and a 75-year-old "rapping Granny." Proclaims Cal, "Soul is not a color. It's a collection of experiences to start the heart, speak to emotions, and move on." New Yorkers, take note and move on: You have options.

South Pacific to be revived , finally, for the first time since it wowed ‘em back in ‘49. That does it. I’ve got Damtrak reservations. How could I miss all this drama, even if half of it folds by the time I ge there. That is, if Damtrak arrives at all ... New York! New York! Whether I get there are not, you’re a helluva town!