Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Showbiz David in Global Flight. Destination: China

Two friends, planning Chinese journey,
Share dreams of New Year's Day
For one, first visit home ...
For other, new adventure far away

I'm now in the air, en route with my friend Boyi for Hong Kong. From there, Shanghai, Beijing, then down to the farming village where Boyi was raised near the city of Taishan in the southern Guangdong province. To visit his still-standing house, to walk through bamboo trees and maybe bake a sweet potato in a dirt oven. And maybe watch Boyi ride a cow, if he can muster up his boyhood know how.

Circuses, we will see several. And thanks to the generous courtesy of Chinese State Circus artistic advisor Tian Run Min, I may be talking to some directors of the famed acrobatic troupes.

Forbidden City. The Great Wall. Boyi's farm. Train rides here and there.

As time and technology permit, I may be sending some postaches (my word: "post" combined with "dispatch") from China Land ...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Today: World Circus Day!

On this day, the first World Circus Day, launched under the patronage of the Federation Mondiale du Cirque’s Honorary President, H.S.H. Princess Stephanie of Monaco, "circuses, festivals, circus professionals, circus schools and circus friends around the world will carry out celebrations of their choice to mark this day and to publicise the role of circus as part of our shared cultural heritage.'

May I offer my profound gratitude to those wondrously gifted mortals the world over, for all the pleasure they have given me. What, oh what, would life be without Circus? On with your shows! You are the stars of my universe ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Late Night Boob Tube Abyss ... I just can't get hooked on anybody ...

I tried Jimmy Kimmel. Rather interestingly, pleasantly low key character, with a little humor, but to my jaded funny bone, not much. Last night he had an ordinary repair man go out and do some work for a so-called celebrity. Very long bit, not very amusing. I blew the bit and the show.

Jay and David: Both shows have things that irritate me. I go back and forth, and have nearly given up. I am about again to default to Jay, though his Jay Walking, among other specials, is such a bore. I can't believe, I actually am missing his 10 p.m. show; he had some hot opening monologues.

I watched Johnny Carson's 20th anniversary show, having recently acquired a new "reconditioned" Phillips VCR-DVD player to watch my old VHS tapes on, which my friend Boyi, resisting my initial inclination to pay $299.00 for a new Sony, found on Best Buy for only $44.00! Excellent player, and what a joy the Carson show was. I kept watching. Johnny was SO funny; of course, he was hand selecting I assume his funnier bits. But what a class act. Desk bits, a riot. Skits with scenery had me laughing out loud. Remember when he played a hyper president who made hay with humor? And he interviewed a woman of 103 years, also amusing.

So now Connan O'Brien is coming back to some obscure cable channel. If I had it, I'd give this nerd another chance. I do think he will steal more from Jay's audience than from Dave's, so Dave could end up the victor, for what that's worth.

Meanwhile, I can't believe this; for junk TV, I've rejoined the Judge Judy courtroom. Maybe as simple as this: She makes me laugh. And, I'm looking through my collection for more tapes of Johnny. Mr. Ed, too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Morning Midway: These Guys Were Impressed ...

Quite satisfied, thank you, at Ringling's new Funundrum, was klsdad, New Yorker on the town and on the lots, who e-mails a solid yes to the show, "particularly impressed with the use of the LED screens which they used to quite dramatic effect, along with the excellent performances." What left kls wanting was a lackluster menagerie parade into the garden. "Quite disappointing ... 6 elephants and a few horses." Does sound rather like a puppet show compared to long ago, doesn't it ... kls considered OVO, making me laugh describing the charges he faced: "senior mid week ticket prices at $99.50, plus $15 (processing charge, albeit it including the $5 computer generated ticket admission form, AND the $20 round-trip NY Waterways Taxi fee." ... That made it easy for him to default instead to a trip to Ringling at Coney this summer where he can get (are you listening, kls?) a $10 ticket, on sale April 29 (not including on-line ticketing fees if that's the only way to grab one). Just stay away from the concession pits ...

Wowed by an elegant horse show: Jack Hunter, hunting down circuses in his Florida hunting grounds, elated to report about Cavilia, now at the Florida State Fairgrounds. "First class all the way and the tickets aren't cheap." Tent seats 2,000, show has a "long featured act" from Sylvian Zerbini. Capacity or near-to houses, says Jack, since show opened on March 13. Now, with Ms. Zerbini on the bill, I already see a better show than the one I saw in Berkeley a few years ago. My biggest gripe: way too long at 2-1/2 hours, which still applies. Jack's ready for Carson & Barnes at the Brooksville, FL fairgrounds on May 15-16.

Baraboo proud, he is: Doc Bob Dewel on the triumphant lensing at the Al Ringling of Fritz Lang's highly regarded silent flick, Metropolis, scored by 42 musicians, with "percussion on the stage flanking the screen and musicians overflowing the orchestra pit onto the first row." 300 to 400 hundred of Baraboo's residents (town total, 11,000) turning out and rendering a prolonged standing ovation, mighty pleased.

Not so lucky: A sad tragic story of Hamid Shrine Circus elephant, Dumbo, allegedly disoriented and in error hitting its handler, Andrew Anderson, 48, who died from multiple injuries. Anderson reportedly worked with the elephant for several years and even slept in close proximity. One wonders if we are getting the full story.

Hoping to be lucky: Calvin "Casual Cal" Dupree, UniverSoul's original ringmaster and co-founder, out again with his Bumpin' Big Top Circus, ironically appearing at the St. Georges Auditorium in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Some performers were not born to produce, and I wonder if this is not the case for Dupree, such a gifted announcer to apparently be foundering between sporadic self-produced gigs.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Cirque Sightings: New Show "Totem" Takes on Evolution ... "Banana," Still Evolving "Under New Management," Follows OVO into New York ...

Charles Darwin, here's your ticket! They're pre-billing it "A fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind." Now evolving out of Montreal mud (and are you envious, Kelly-Miller troupers?), this latest to open up there in Cirque du Soleil land will then leap -- drats, not down here to my neighborhood, but by ions of time over to Amsterdam. Wonder if they'll offer live promo teasers in those famous & racy Amsterdam windows?

Written and directed by evolutionary guide Robert Lepage, with Pedro Pires serving as "Image Content Designer," here are some intriguing early images of acts in progress. And, yes, how shamefully hypocritical of me to actually feature a photo of a variation on the hula hoop. But, hey! These are not your garden variety hoops, right, kids? (My apologies to all circus producers whom I've insulted)

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the terrifically evolved OVO opens in New York at Randall's Island Park on April 17, just in time, me thinks, to reaffirm Cirque's resilient & enduring & impressive credibility before Banana Shpeel, now under "new management" hits the Beacon Theatre stage 12 days later. Gosh, how I'd love to be there. Gotta see if Greyhound has a special on ...

The forever slipping Banana has a new "perfectionist producer" in Marty Schmelky, with major Broadway credits (Phantom, Fiddler, Best Little Banana in Texas, among others), that is --- WAIT! -- until I did some fact checking and learned the guy is a fictional joke. Okay, let the laugh be on me, if it must. What I do for Spangleland. David Shiner is still evidently up for a shiner when Cirque du Vaudeville faces the NY judges, or I'll eat my words if the whole thing backfires into the improbable hit of the century. I can just as easily genuflect to the geniuses of Quebec as I can giggle over a turkey chuckle. Oh, the advantages of borderline schizophrenia. It keeps you balanced.

Gotta give the Cirque King credit. At latitude Laliberte, seems that closing before the point of no return is not an option for the Darwin division.

Friday Flashes: John Ringling North II High on Season; Logan Jacot Frames Sideshow; Tim Tegge Offers Affordable DVDs; All on the Inside, Folks!

A bundle of good news for fans of good news. Happy producers to retro sideshows, to DVD offers that are down-to-earth affordable! ... What a grand night for singing ... Tune up your expectations and get out your cash or plastic. Something to tickle everyone this way comes ...

To Showbiz David from John Ringling North II, concerning my recent blogging about bloggers and weak Kelly-Miler Circus Texas biz, says the House of Ringling, yes, Jim Judkins did promote the dates, and, yes, fewer bodies showed up in the seats, and, also worth noting, "Even Jim Judkins couldn't control the unbelievable wet and cold weather," reports North II. However, playing away from storms in Mc Allen, "business was considerably up from last year." ... Most of all, JRN II is high on his 2010 opus: "Audience reaction has been extremely good for all the acts. It's certainly the strongest show we've had since Jim Royal and I joined Kelly Miller." Now, that's what we like to hear, a proud producer who cares. We need to know our tenting tycoons are happy, they are such a rare breed, without whom fragile operations would quickly fade away ... Sir Royal had earlier e-mailed me, "We included new towns, smaller ones, as one day stands. Two of them were excellent, the others disappointing. The problem with them, was a marketing one." ...

The Young Fascinate me: Well, I was young once, and given my age, I've seen many shows and showman come and go. A strange journey it's been, once looking up at big tall men, now looking sideways (not down, always with provisional respect) at younger kids on the lot. Logan Jacot is one of them, and he's framed a new sideshow for Circus Vera, and he's high on the spread of exhibits from old fashioned kink to his own P.T. Jacot discoveries, bones and oddities, et all. How I loved once wandering under waving white canvas tents, hot and grassy, ambling from one platform to the next in a ten-in-one, feeling a neat prelude to the bigger show soon to take the rings in the much bigger top. Loved the crusty atmosphere. Loved the consecutive grind of the features, never starting or stopping, one following after another ...

Jacot's talent lineup, premiering on April 17 in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, includes the bed of nails, and "the infamous blade box," and just hearing about that body slicing illusion from a young impresario makes it feel fresh again. Renews my appetite for the hype and the color and the earthy melodrama of it all! In total, customers are promised ten live acts, 40 attractions and side show history displays. Go, Logan, go! ...

And here comes the Santa Clause of DVD sales, nameed Tim Tegge. Stand up and cheer, everybody who would love to add to their collections at prices they can afford. Didn't know it was Tim when my e-mail box blossomed into a website advertising DVDS for only $19.995, shipping INCLUDED. Yes, you read it right. I mock ordered one, and the total price came up $19.95. I'm already ordering the Ringling-Barnum 1955 TV Christmas special, which I reviewed in my extreme youth in the old Circus Review. ... And, the 1968 Ringling TV highlights show; loved that edition; once I view, I'll tell you what I think. Here's the Tegge link, brought to your attention mainly because the price is so right:


End Ringers: Tito Gaona has this Venice circus museum dream I just don't get. Something about preserving that distinctly NOT attractive practice arena that Art Concello built after the show went indoors. Tito's goal still hangs by a thread with another reluctant reprieve granted from a city council in no mood to preserve what never amounted to much. Now find me a Concello seat wagon in fixable order, Tito, and I'll share your dream ... Cole Bros. Circus getting a great review stressing its impact on the kids from intern Anna Brown, for the Star News in Wilmington, North Carolina. Out of a press kit? Probably at least up to New York Times standards ... Here's one for the books: Sarah Whitt of Tupelo, Miss, with thirty-year-old Ringling circus tickets she won but was then unable to use, showing up finally, merely wondering if maybe her two grandsons could use them. Jackpot! The show ushered the entire family into VIP seating for free. How sweet a story.

first posted 4.9.2010

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Morning Midway: The Strange Case of Alfredo Codona's Afterlife on the Big Apple Circus

Through the roaring twenties he flew, circus star of the universe. Then, the triple somersault on the return trapeze was a phenomenal rarity. Then, a rarity that he alone ruled. Then, his bird-like flights under waving canvas peaks thrilled the thousands lured to three-ring spectacles.

Grounded by an injury during the Great Depression, he retired to the sidelines, a Great Sebastian in his own day accepting less spectacular jobs -- to blow a whistle or crack a whip or count ticket stubs. Now, he was merely a mortal. Grief stricken on earth, he opted for an early exit to the big lot above.

But this transcendent angel of the air was destined to soar again. Yes, again! It's a story you may have never heard. Only a precious few attended the epochal event. I must now tell you about it.

This mystical happening appears to have been blessed by the "bible of showbiz" Variety, as the entertainment weekly was once known. Such a bible, indeed, that its scribes could evidently see visions, could, in fact, conjure up living miracles when driven to the outer limits of critical worship.

Or was the atonement to be not really the revelation of Variety at all, but of the passion for "virtuosity" that drove big top impresario Paul Binder? Did, in fact, our legendary flyer hear the call of the Binder bird and experience a profound out-of-grave awakening?

Or, might that ethereal eruption have been decreed by a colossally clever press agent working magic on a vulnerable first night reviewer? Perhaps the moment of wonder was birthed in a common press kit handed out to novice believers.

Advance to the year 1986, to Damrosch Park in New York City. Advance to opening night of The Big Apple Circus, an opening night to end all opening nights. Oh, to have been there! To have known such glory in the flesh! To have beheld the resurrection and the light, as did Variety's anointed witness, one "Roy," covering the historic evening for the bible of show business, never so divinely inspired as it was that night: Thus saith Roy:

"The Flying Gaonas trapeze troupe is uniformly strong, and performers use every inch of the tent's space for their aerial work, which includes a spectacular triple somersault by Alfred Codona."

Can you imagine the cheers! The tears! The rush of sleeping emotions for all of the greatest years! So many mortals flew high that night, not just the great Alfredo, but a possessed critic, a profoundly proud producer, and, we can only imagine, a few knowing aficionados ravingly re-connected to a big top god from out of the past ...

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Jilted by Big Apple Circus, Charlestown RI Courts Kelly-Miller ... Flyer Lands in Kids' Laps ... Granny, 103, Rides Elephant ... and More!

Big Image Boost for John Ringling North II. You may recall, the Big Apple Circus, citing economic reasons, nixing its long-held date in Charlestown, Rhode Island after 25 years. Jilted, spurned, lonely and deprived, the town sponsor, Chamber of Commerce, reached out with a rosy, please-love-us invitation to Kelly-Miller Circus. Well, maybe not exactly like that, but according to K-M manager James Royal, his is the show they want. And his is the show they are going to get, come July 19 for three days. Ending an e-mail to Showbiz David, Royal quipped, "I am sorry to report....no rain or mud this week." Okay, and I should cry! Advice to Kelly Miler mud mavens: keep the stuff to yourself when you go out on your first date with the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce. I suggest pink sawdust.

Granny, your elephant is waiting! In Sioux City, avid animal lover Alice Anderson, still interactive with life at 103, hoisted out of her wheel chair and up a staircase onto a pachyderm with the Abu Bekr Shrine Circus for a ride around the ring. Dressed in a jumpsuit of black and lavender and assisted by two nursing home staff members, Alice "hung on for dear life" two times around the ring. Did she enjoy it? "No." Staffers reporting her wanting all week long to climb aboard, but once aboard, apparently wanting off. She then thought whoever put her up to it was "crazy." Sounds like a crack flackmaster on his game.

Harvard Roustabouts: If the Big Apple Circus can lure some recent grads into its organization, the props may be getting set up and torn down by future Nobel prize winners from chemistry to philosophy. "The circus is hiring!" was the word spread throughout the campus.

Who Invented the Trampoline? Nice to be able to say, somebody right here in the USA! It was conceived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1930 when a 16-year-old kid, inspired by the sight of trap flyers descending into the net following their act, thought, heck, why not make the net an act in itself? George Nissen, who just passed away at 96, was a member of high school gymnastics and diving teams. He called his invention a "bouncing rig." Working with his school coach Larry Griswold, they continued fine tuning the idea, adding nylon. In 1937, Nissen and two friends mounted a touring acrobatics show called the Three Leonardos, exhibiting through the Midwest and Texas. Down Mexico way, they heard locals referring to their prop as "el trampolin." The young inventor added an "e" and registered "Trampoline" as a trademark. By the year 2000, Nissen's neat bouncing machine is used at the Olympics. Cirque du Soleil has absolutely reaped stunning effects installing vertical trampolines against walls, as witness OVO's exhilarating finish ...

End Ringers: Another big circus festival, to be hosted in Montreal, July 8-25, with funding in the lower millins by Quebec and City of Montreal. Official title: Festival International des arts du cirque. This excites. We here in the states could get there easily, and considering it will be held in Cirque land, it's bound to draw high profile acts ... Big Apple Circus flyer Aleksandr Sotov, following a triple, failing to connect with his catcher Oleg Aniskin, falling to the net, but bouncing up and out and into the laps of two children. Miraculously, according to a news report forwarded by cyber courier Don Covington, "no one was seriously hurt." Whew!

And that's a close wrap.

First posted 4.16.10


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Big Top Blogging: Kelly-Miller Conundrum, Continued

This feels very personal, because it strikes me as unfortunate that the Kelly-Miller Circus goings-on, critically including day-to-day business, are covered by its blogging employees while virtually no other shows out there face the same sort of scrutiny. Once again, I raise the issue. But before any of you fly off, be assured this is not a criticism of you so much as an exploration of a situation unique to internet culture.

Bloggers, of course, have every right (constitutionally, that is) to blog; they have their fans, in fact many many more "followers" than I could ever dream of having. Somewhere on my blog, I see I have a total of 3, and I don't know who they are (Yeah, go ahead, the HaHaHa is on me). I've looked at three K-M blogs, of course Steve and Ryan's, and just this morning, almost by accident, that of a nice lady named Valerie Berta Torales (Mud Show Diaries, just added to my links to your right), a relative no doubt of the showmanly Friedman. She gives a more maternal feel, very different perspective.

However, since I shun ER drama (I gave up on All My Sluts, excuse me, All My Children, and the adorable Erica when this TV soap took up 24-7 residence in a hospital), and since I much prefer poetry over biology, I won't be touring much with Valerie. I am very impressed with the high marks she gives Kelly-Miller cookhouse chef Brian, "the best cook house food we've ever had at any circus." Well, if he can eat fire, I guess he can cook up a storm, ho ho. (Any of my three followers laughing? I'm hoping for a fourth somewhere out there ...)

One thing only is quite clear. These bloggers, wisely so, I imagine, have never to my knowledge revealed personal opinions on the quality of any of their fellow performers. At the most, you'll get something like tiger trainer Casey Cainan terming this year's show an "awesome line up." No doubt they wish to remain on good working terms while frolicking through the mud, so you have little chance of ever learning how the respective acts work on a given audience.

Business? Here is where I feel sorry for Kelly-Miller management. Imagine The Billboard, as it once was, reporting weekly on the business of only ONE circus. How would you feel? Now, before anybody takes out their b-b-gun to aim it west, I don't grudge the bloggers the right to report on house size, etc, even if they only give us vague benchmarks to mull over -- short of "packed" or "near full."

Here is the most significant issue at hand, as I see it. Can anybody out there point me in the direction of any other circus (yes, I know about Ben Tumble's reports on Culpepper & Merriweather) where crowd sizes are blogged by staff members? Where anything about the show, for that matter, is blogged? Why is it, I wonder as I wander, given the wide open cyber world where anybody can mouth off with a mouse and a keyboard, that NONE of other other shows are covered in this manner? Do the owners put out there word, Keep Quiet? Are all other circus folk save for the Kelly-Miller community shy of sharing such stuff?

I said this was personal. I could regularly report on general Kelly-Miler house size trends based upon Steven's day-to-day accounts. I won't for reasons stated, nor would I be responsible in doing so, since Steve's use of words "decent size crowd" and "average size crowd" could mean anything.

I like Steve and Ryan's blog, and I can kind of see why it is so popular. And I certainly like Valerie's voice. But, beyond doctor tent calls or ticket sales, the rest (cafe going, texture and depth of mud) does not interest me that much. Most of all, I am left totally clueless as to the effectiveness of the show on the public itself.

Here's what I will say: It's very clear that last season's turn-away Texas crowds did not reappear this year. Biz was way down from that early 2009 tour, promoted by James Judkins, as I assume this year's round was. Or maybe it wasn't. Why the drastic drop off in attendance? Could be the promoters; could be that last year's show was not strong enough to generate repeat patronage. Or that this year's show is not generating strong enough word of mouth. Or that a lot of wretched weather has kept people inside their houses.

But, oh, what a lovely scene above that is! I hear Irving Berlin; I see Courier and Ives. And I want to take a sleigh ride to the circus! Were I given the option, I'd much prefer Kelly-Miller in snow over mud. Snow even rather than grass, just for the novelty. What poetry! No business like snow business ...

Good lookers, they: Kelly-Miller troupers at a restaurant following a big biz day in Idabel, Oklahoma.

[photos from Steve and Ryan's blog, and Mud Show Diaries]

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Morning Midway: Ringling 's at the Garden; David Letterman's Son is Not

David Letterman, at a desk bit last night, raised the subject of Ringling Bros. being at Madison Square Garden. A friend had talked up the circus and encouraged Letterman to take his son, Harry. So Dave approached little Harry, telling him he could get two tickets and the two could go. So, how about it, Harry?

"Absolutely not," replied the talk show's son.


Don't know what that was all about. End of bit with Harry's retort. Maybe it's just a David Letterman thing.

From the reliably circus-affirmative New York Times, comes another boffo review, this one from the sharper pen of Ken Jaworowski, calling the show "the best the troupe has turned out in years." but issuing extreme dissatisfaction with the excessive merchandising and ridiculously high costs.

I could find only one other review, in the New York Post -- vaguely good though rather short and somewhat inconclusive.

I see the Big Show's New York date is only 11 days. Remember when it visited the Garden for five and six weeks, sometimes turning 'em away?

Maybe Harry Letterman is onto something. That's right, sadly I concede, our circuses seem not to be drawing nearly as many customers as once they did. Even if they are getting better. I'm looking forward to this Funundrum.