Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Circus Showmanship 101: Timeless Advice

"Don't over look the big 'if'. There is little doubt that shows will do an excellent business if they have real entertainment to offer, present it in a showmanlike manner, give the shows the proper exploitation, and keep faith with the public. Unless they are prepared to do those things, they might as well stay in the barn. It will save 'em money."

From The Billboard
March 28, 1931.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Sister Loved the Shrine Bears; Frisco Loved Burck's Tigers; John Pugh Loves Never Selling Cole Bros. Circus ...

A pithy potpourri, plentifully positive, properly plumped for popcorn people, prefaced by this glee-mail from my sister Kathy, in Omaha:

"Hi David,

I went to the Shrine Circus today, and I saw the MOST CHARMING BEARS I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY WHOLE LIFE!!!! THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL!!!!! I also saw a fella that worked with ropes and whips (I never would have thought I would have liked that in a circus........but he was a FABULOUS ENTERTAINER! And a high trapeze artist by the name of Rebecca, who was fabulous! I loved seeing these acts, but was somewhat disappointed by some other things. However, it was wonderful attending the circus again......and I am a "kid of all ages".

Can you name the circus? I'm still awaiting a name and place from Kathy.

And here, from the San Francisco Chronicle dated August 23, 1984, discovered whilst purging my papers to de-clutter and hone, bone down to durable dust, and admit fresh air into my musty walk-in closet, is rare praise for the our own ...

"On the other hand, Wade Burck, a fresh-faced tiger trainer from North Dakota, at least displays genuine affection for the beasts with which he shares his working hours. Burck's six Siberian tigers and nine Burmese white tigers are gorgeous, beautifully groomed, and evidently happier with their lot than those pitiful camels. Ditto the performing bears -- despite the foolish tutus and wrestler's togs they've been made to wear."

Oh, but patron Kathy might have adored the bruins in high fashion. High honor, anyway, from Frisco, a town not afraid to turn out real circus reviews! Wade evidently still values the beauty of beautiful animals; take a look at his blog, (the link, his name, to your right) and behold some of the most gorgeous photos you will see of life's living menagerie.

Covinton Connected, Cirque du Soleil is advance puffing record-breaking profits for the year 2011 exceeding (cry your hearts out, Hugo) $1 billion bucks. Revenues last year reached $850 million. Now wait, 2011? Isn't that the year we just entered?

What troubles me about such puffery: Claims second in commander, Daniel Lamarre, " so far, no show has ever recorded a loss." No, no, please Mr. Lamarre, are you telling me that your Banana Shpeel actually made money? I think not. The Beatles Vegas show, says he, "has continued ... to pack in audiences at a 2,000 seat theatre>" I'mmmmmm not so sure, sir. On the PBS Cirque give-away special, I thought I saw an ominous number of empty chairs, no? Now, here's the caveat kicker: The rosy "forecast" -- that's what it really is -- "relies on the success of three new spectacles," including the Hollywood installation at the Kodak Theatre and a stage spectacle at Radio City Musical Hall -- oops, that's New York, not exactly a guaranteed venue for any Cirque offering. Maybe they've learned their lesson and can magically avoid another banana bust.

OK, let it go, to myself I puff. Here's tenuous tanbark talk: Rumorhazzit (I miss Billy Barton when I spell it that way, his way) that John Pugh pitched his Cole Bros Circus to the Byrd family, but they were not buying. Rumors forever. How many centuries now have I been hearing that Johnny wants to get out from under the big top just as soon as he can find a buyer? Strange, he keeps on owning it AND having it up for sale. Maybe he's desperate to raise the $150,000 court fine he has to pachyderm up for his murky elephant sale to a Davenport named Gopher.

Kathy, I'm dying to know of those things at Shrine that left you wanting? Did you know that somewhere in China, a Panda bear performs! Those creatures are so absolutely adorable. How I would love to hug one, if only it would promise not to hug me back. Unrequited love sometimes is the only option, even with a pre-nuptial.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spider-tacular Peril Revives Old Circus with a Terrifying New Twist: When Will Danger's Destination Be THE AUDIENCE?

Carpio, another injured Spider-Man actress, will be out of the show for 2-3 weeks. She had replaced Natali Mendoza, who suffered a more serious injury and left the production.

Time to brush off our contemptible Circus Maximus memories and give due, if perverse, respect to those bloody Roman "games" that drew spectators by the hundreds of thousands.

Their spirit of risk-taking seems to have resurfaced, of all places, in a "legit" Broadway house named the Foxwoods Theatre, credit the musical endlessly in previews that just keeps on hurting, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Only last week, but not until yesterday made belatedly known, yet another actress, Carpio, got tangled up in the show's precarious cobwebs and ended up in the hospital with minor injuries. Carpio, who had replaced Natali Mendoza, an earlier victim of a more serious fall, will be out of the show for two weeks. The unscripted landings continue apace.

Crowds of uncertain origin -- possibly sharing the same thrill-seeking mania that drew the multitudes to the Roman Coliseum where Christians got fed to the lions -- are flocking to the Foxwoods Theatre in New York, nightly nearly packing the playhouse to witness actors flying out over the audience destined for balcony landings and return flights.

Most of the time, the marionette thespians make it. Sometimes they don't, causing gasps, groans and grief-stricken faces from startled ticket holders, setting off alarms, throwing scenery aside to make room for medics with stretchers, driving headline-writers into fits of melodrama over the latest misfortune to befall a show with a reputation for its reckless technical reach.

Hard to imaging this critically panned "musical" thriving without all of the above. The long lines still forming at the ticket windows, despite the hissing notices, are there, forget about a leaden second act and some worn out rock and roll songs, to see the "circus" in Spider-Man. To even watch -- well, let's not go there.

Once upon a more dangerous season, many of these same customers flocked to our pre-Cirque circuses on the wings of similarly trepidations expectations. Most of them feared the worst, and rarely did the worst every happen. But the ever-present "worst" gave the big top a certain raw urgency that it has grown to doubt and downplay. Terminate or emasculate your "thrill acts," and somewhere, somehow, they will find a way back into another or newer form.

But live action theatre at the Foxwoods introduces a new, even more perilous element into an old-fashioned format: the very real possibility that YOU, not a performer but a patron, might also end up on a stretcher. That is, if you happen to be sitting in the wrong seat when the unthinkable occurs. At a circus, rarely if ever has this eerie option been present. Yes, of course, if a trapeze artist on the dismount bounces out of a net, theoretically he or she could land in the unwelcome lap of a customer. At the Fox woods, that possibility lurks at every performance. And this factor alone makes astonishing the continued indifference of New York city over the dangers inherent in this problem-plagued production. One might ask, is theatre such a big industry in Gotham, and Spider-Man, such a draw, that without the latter, all theatres would suffer?

And while Spider-Man continues to draw the multitudes, most of our circuses, having either learned to downplay the element of risk or immunize themselves totally against it by using safety lifelines (mechanics), are becoming, it might be prudently argued, less exciting, and thus less appealing an option to the average American amusement seeker.

Nouveau circus types dismiss "danger" as the mark of a barbaric art form. They are in essence reinventing the form to liberate it from itself. They have every right to succeed on their own terms -- if they can. But "static trapeze," a new device granting the "aerialist" artistic license to stress choreography over daredevilry, is unlikely to advance the circus as a wide-spread populist draw. It may, on the other hand, reinvent and re-energize ballet.

And in the meantime, thrill acts of all sort will continue to flourish, whatever the form.

My advice to all Spider-Man voyeurs: Unless you desire yourself to be fed to the flying lions, so to speak, in a modern form of accidental victim-hood, get thee to a balcony seat in the Gods far away from this ill-rigged ethereal extravaganza, either that wear a hard hat before reporting to your orchestra seat, be prepared to duck and cover without advance notice, and pray for a safe journey out of the modern-day version of old Rome, while it lasts, on that brave new Great White Way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Out of the Past -- Shaky Starts to New Season: Cole Bros. Gets Probation; UniverSoul Stars Strippers and Pimps; Kelly Miller Recycles Last Season ...

From March, 2011
On a happier, altogether different note: Ignacio Ybarra performs with a special circus in Venice to raise money for restoration of the old Ringling arena into a museum. Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner

Never make deals with a Davenport
, not if they have anything to do with a circus. Pity poor nice guy Johnny Pugh, who sold a couple of elephants to Wilbur Davenport (I assume of the notorious Ben Davenport wing) back around 2005, and "failed to assure," he now admits, that Davenport had first secured a necessary permit as mandated by the Endangered Species Act. Cole's Renee Story calling the issue a 'technicality." No, no, Johnny! Years later, he and Davenport are in federal court facing misdemeanor charges on violating the Act. I can only assume (having neither the will nor the will) that these rules protect against animals being sold to the wrong people, and I know enough about those Davenports to know that nothing good can come of it.

Why, Johnny, why? The animal abuse alleged to have occurred once the bulls ended up in Davenport’s hands may be used by Pugh’s PETA enemies against him. Judges tally? Cole has to pay $150,000 (ouch!), and will be on probation for 4 years. Pugh and Davenport each pleaded guilty to violating the Act and will serve three-year probations that mandate 100 hours a year of community service. And just where on the road might that take place, I wonder. A sad sad tale for Pugh. Oh, please, where to next? How about a little innocent pimping under another beleaguered tent? ...

UniverSoul Circus shocks mothers with morals: This year’s wrap-up sermon (they all seem to revel in drugs & sex) is a skit in which men toss bills at strippers and a woman gets “sold” to a pimp by her boyfriend, and then slapped around for refusing to honor her new job description. (PETA, here’s a more viable field for you to tackle) ... Parental patron Kristine Brown telling WSBTV in Atlanta of having been outraged! “I didn’t think that was child friendly at all,” complained she, who had rushed her kids out of the tent during the illicit interlude. A few other mamas kind of agreeing, but some defending the skit as being not “too graphic.” May I ask, whatever happened to the circus? ...

Show’s pr man, Hank Ernest, telling a reporter “Our show is about positive messages and sometimes to get to these you have to go to those lows.” Actually, the defiled woman is shown escaping her forced fate and “giving her life to Christ.”... This is one very odd show, not without a few very good acts. Maybe when producer-pastor Cedric Walker takes his veiled bordello to L.A., he’ll be Nokia nightclub ready; that’s the venue just played by Cirque Berzerk ...

Not a cheerful start to the new season, any of that stuff up there (not to mention the Big Apple Circus rock-hip hop-riot debacle). So how about my obsessing over Kelly-Miller Circus? My interest level is suddenly deflating, all except for the adventures of a certain malfunctioning clown truck that keeps me at the edge of my monitor fearing for the life of its driver, Steven Copeland (somebody should walk this guy back to the show-owned accommodations he endured when he first signed on, or start up an Emergency Copeland Truck Repair Defense Fund) ...

From what I can tell and hear, if anybody out there (only me?) is looking for fresh break-out showmanship from John Ringling North II, put your hallucinations away for another year. This not-new opus appears to be a virtual duplicate of last season’s. Not a promising sign from the House of Ringling. Unless Kelly-Miller is plying all-new markets — like a Ringling-Barnum unit on the second-leg of a 2-year tour -- returning customers are bound to sense stagnation. Declining patronage usually follows. OK, I’m out of that tent, promise ...

Johnathan Ybarra at the Venice Circus. Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner

Back on the midway, what a blast of color the Balloon Man produces. I was over there looking around and bumped into the UniverSoul Circus tale (good reporting, Dick). By far, the most visually captivating of all the circus blogs has got to be, hands down, the one that Dick puts out, from which the above photos were lifted. What atmosphere! Like walking a brilliantly decorated midway. If the ads on Dick's blog are for real; this guy knows how to pitch and sell ... Maybe I should hire him to revamp my same old same old stand, but I'm afraid I'd get swamped in concessions, and that's NOT a rant ... Yes, I'm trying to end this. OK, I just did, period, end of dots.

Originally posted March, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Broadway, Bloody Broadway: "Spider-Man" Spins Cautionary Cobwebs; Big Egos, Beware ...

Oscar Hammerstein II, standing, and Richard Rodgers, listened to audiences, critics and colleagues in working on new shows headed for Broadway. Hammerstein sat out in the seats and counted the coughs -- one sign of flagging interest.

Takes talent to get there, usually. Mostly. Takes guts and perseverance, the capacity to endure cold-hearted rejections, one after another, sometimes nasty -- until the Big Break, which, for most, will never arrive.

Takes a touch of ruthless indifference to the plight of those against whom you are competing. Those who break through develop an over-night talent for savoring every new flop that comes along, as long as they are not in it.

My brother, Dick, possessed lyric-writing talent, so much so that Victor Young called him once in response to some verse Dick had sent him. Dick was away at the time, I took the call excitedly, passed along the message, but nothing came of it. This may have contributed to Dick's ultimately deciding at an early age that the New York thing was not for him. He sensed darker sides to the Great White Way without ever going there, and withdrew his ambitions, settling for the community theatre scene. Now he just loves watching musicals musicals musicals; Last year, he took in 51 shows!

Laboring across some local stages myself, I've crossed paths with dancers who made it into New York chorus lines, and told me about how socially vicious the atmosphere can be. Hoofer eat hoofer.

Not a problem for the driven: Some will practically die for that elusive Opening Night in a Gotham show. Thousands comb casting offices in vain, line up for demeaning cattle-call auditions. Work day jobs waiting for the Big Break. And when they, who are lucky, land on Big Boards, they suffer more humbling days and nights, fighting for a bigger piece of fame and rejection in another show that may never come. Fighting, if they make it Big, to stay Big.

One-hit wonderland strikes many. And the party never comes their way again. Still, they chase the Big Return, like a spurned lover unable to let go. There was Henry David Hwang, famous for his M. Butterfly, making futile return visits, the most audacious being a virtual sabotage of the fine Rodgers and Hammerstein hit, Flower Drum Song by way of his rewriting it totally away from what it was in the beginning in the spirit of a Broadway "revival" (which flopped out).

And now, yet another prospective member to the club of One-Hit Wonders is Julie Taymor, ex-director of Spider-Man: Turn Out the Dark, who has been credited beyond sense and reason for having practically invented The Lion King, that slick manufactured Disney blockbuster that may live to rival Phantom of the Opera.

Those who defer to Ms. Taymor's great success fail, most of them, to note that she, yes, directed King, but did not, no did not write it. Remember the word writer, anybody? King is built upon a very viable book based upon a very viable movie, the book written not by the director, Ms. Taymor, but by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, adapting the screenplay, itself the product of three scripters, one of them Mecchi.

"Book problems," which seem to plague the aerial-centric Spider-Man, are the most common reason shouted high and wide when a new musical is in trouble, and most new musicals are in trouble at some perilous point or another (whether they really are or not), in trouble out of town, as was once the custom, or in previews as is now. Arguably the most critical element in any tuner is the libretto, for without a clear narrative path of engaging characters caught up in empathetic conflicts, audiences have little to grasp. Many musicals have succeeded with ill-distinguished scores; many bearing great scores have failed for the lack of an effective book.

Countless are the tales of a show having been "saved" by feverish late night brainstorming sessions involving writers, composers, directors, producers -- maybe even press agents and mop ladies, all together addressing what seems to be working with the audience as opposed to what is not working. The greatest lights of Broadway, among them Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, all subjected themselves to this humbling rewrite ritual -- they knew that musical theatre is not just a collaborative art form, but, ultimately, a confrontation between product and patron.

When it came to such meetings, or collisions, of the minds at the Foxwoods theatre, seems that Ms. Taymor, Spider-Man's director, regularly did not allow such a circle to tell her what to do. In particular, how to fix embarrassingly inept second-act scripting. A thousand times more amazing considering that she holds absolutely no other book-writing credits attached to any successful Broadway venture. Her only claim to libretto know-how would be the book she co-wrote for Juan Darien, a puppet show of hers which lasted all of 49 nights at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Her co-librettist, Glen Berger, has no other Broadway credits, and is virtually never mentioned in coverage of behind-the-scenes turmoil.

From well-placed insider reports, Ms. Taymor even ignored the pleas of cast members urging her to address the mystifying nonsense that followed intermission. The scathing reviews that New York critics have filed did not help any; Ms. Taymor was shown the door last week. A new director and writer are headed for the Foxwoods. To save a show in trouble? Don't count Spider-Man down at the count of 10 yet.

Oscar Hammerstein labored through six consecutive flops in the 1930s, and kept coming back. And then came his Big Return in Oklahoma! in 1943. This gentle giant took out a full-page ad in Variety: "Ive done it before, and I can do it again."

Now nursing a huge hissy fit, Ms. Taymore is said to be demanding a big payout and threatening (would this not be a blessing?) to take her script with her.

According to New York Post critic, Michael Riedel, a revamped libretto now in the works will junk a character created by Taymor and "largely based upon herself," the "egotistical" villainous Arachine. One of that characters most memorable lines is: "I am the only real artist working today."

Ego? On Broadway, never ever just a little.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

L.A.'s Cirque Berzerk Goes Financially Berserk, Into Bankruptcy Big Top ... A Tale Not New at All

Out of the past: From March 12, 2011

The new ambitious troupes put up by the young hungering to "reinvent" circus far more often than not invariably stumble through artistic hubris into premature deathts. Experimentation, a noble aspiration, has a high failure rate. These small upstarts cleverly latch onto corporate funding for a while, flash and dazzle and sputter and fade.

Cirque du Soleil was a great great global exception. At the top it had and has a business minded genius and a true impresario named Guy Laliberte.

The Pickle Family Circus, forging a middle road at first -- until it turned itself into a mantra against too many things circus -- enjoyed a nice little sunny ten or twelve year run, but never making enough money to put up its own little tent. They are history. Others, like Cirque Flora, establish regional success turning out brief annual seasons of months or weeks, squeaking by on the good will of community support.

Here is the story of a very short lived show, Cirque Berzerk, which I've just uncovered, trying and wanting to see them this year. Already, they are, I fear, history. Much of it, I assume of their own doing. Let the story be told though the following bits lifted from an on-line source called CurbedLA:

"A Cirque Berzerk event, Cirque Berzerk Theatrical Productions, LLC, filed for bankruptcy last week, citing debts of about $600,000. Which "event" this is isn't clear, but Cirque Berzerk's two recent major LA runs include a 2009 Cornfield Park summer event and a 2011 January show at Nokia Theater (both shows had extended runs, too). Cirque Bezerk CEO David Berrent didn't return a phone call. "Cirque Berzerk does everything Cirque du Soleil does, but on a shoestring," wrote LA Observed in 2009. If there's less clown competition, better news for Cirque du Soleil, which start rehearsals at the Kodak Theater later this year? [US Bankruptcy Courts/filing on Scribd]"

Of so-called consumer reviews, I found a slew, average rating out of 5 stars: 3.9. Impressive, but let's look at the doubters, for they likely reveal reasons why the show is a goner:

Cirque Berzerk...Not so much.
Nokia Theatre @
- Los Angeles @
, CA @
Posted 02/18/2011
by Christophario
This Fan's Reviews This Fan's Reviews
"I was really excited to see this show at the Nokia. The theatre was great, the set was great, the costumes were great, but that was about it. They had all this potential to put on a great show, but it ended there. The storyline was ridiculous and very slow. At one point there was some weird gay love triangle story going on. I couldn't figure it out. The songs were disappointing. And there wasn't much circus involved. The best part were the hot trampoline guys. Other than that a total snooze. Sorry Cirque Berzerk."

"That's sad. They had a really great show. It was more fun in the tent in 2009. This go around the show didn't change much at all which was great in that the show was great but bad in that it could have been fun to see something new."

"had gone twice before but skipped this year because of the move from LA Historic State Park to Nokia Theater. The tickets at new location were more expensive and the idea of having it at Nokia makes it seem intimate. Didn't feel like a fun, interactive experience, just some event where you're the audience and the show is outside of your reach. Wasn't into it.

Now that I hear they didn't add change much just makes me glad I didn't spend the extra money to see the same show in a less fun setting."

Back to SD:

When this AM I began the search, my brain hosted a thought: If they are so good, why so few dates in L.A.? And why, NOW, none up front? Must mean they are not doing well.

Sometimes, your most obvious thoughts are spot on. Life can be remarkably simple to figure out.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Spider-Man's My-Way-Only Director Crash Lands Out the Stage Door; Ringling's Wm. Mckinley to Re-Direct Troubled Tunner; Script Doctor On the Way

A sensational tale of Broadway hubris that keeps on giving: Spider-Man's opening date has been again postponed, to early summer.

Show's famed director Julie Taymor is out, and is making no comment. According to breaking news just reported in the New York Times, she refused to cooperate when producers and cast members appealed to her to consider making suggested changes to a seriously flawed script. Critics called the second act, in particular, a disaster.

In to take over on staging is Philip William McKinley, who directed Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz in 2003, which ran a modest eleven months on Broadway, not the brightest of omens. McKinley, has also staged several editions of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, most notably the sleek, top-of-the-line Boom-A-Ring, which drew mostly raves from the few critics who reviewed it at Coney Island, summer of 2009. It was about the best American circus I've seen in ages.

Most tellingly, story suggests that McKinley may have been hired because the producers want not less but more "thrilling spectacle."

What to make of all this? For what it's worth, Boom-A-Ring (whether actually directed by McKinley, or really by Kenneth Feld) revealed a disciplined directorial hand at work, guiding a taut steady flow of circus action, sans the usual Feld fireworks and Vegas victory legs that adorn a Feld sawdust smorgasbord. Spider-Man, from all accounts, gets lost in the narrative-dead second half, going no where around in circles. (Perhaps McKinley will bring Mr. Feld with him for additional input -- and rigging.)

Cracked one disgruntled would-be customer to the real-life spectacle as originally reported here by Kitty, "We are still not going if nobody's going to really get injured from a stunt. That's a lot of money to pay for a ticket where all you get is a musical."

In past years, McKinley performed in Las Vegas.

Spider-Man's libretto will receive script doctoring from playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who holds no Broadway credits; the Times story links him nebulously to I'ts a Bird ... It's a Plane .. It's Superman, a 1966 flop. He evidently worked on a revised script for a planned revival of the show that did not pan out.

When all is finally delivered up to the belated bright nights and gawking Broadway voyeurs of an "opening night," only a miracle will turn this turkey into a -- profitable turkey.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ringling ‘68 in Black and White Under a Homely Steel Top: The Magic Lives On ...

Ringling's 1968 program magazine cover, designed by Dong Kingman

Having just read a mixed review in the New York Times of Ringling’s latest offering, Fully Charged, written by a critic, Neil Genzlinger, who seems to have suffered post-circus-overload stress-syndrome, my mind is about made up that this will be a Ringling off-year for me. It all started with Barnum’s Funundrum — yes, admirably superior in parts, but desperately needing to sell itself and then some to others.

Evidently, even now with the Feld of Felds, Kenneth, having stepped away a tad to let his daughters “produce” (his word, not mine) while he serves in his new self-appointed calling as Big Picture Man of the Big Show, things are not going to change on the Feld ranch anytime soon.

As for myself, I rue the demise of their visits under canvas to good old Coney Island. I knew it had little chance for lasting — circuses do not fare well in such extended visits (of over two months). I rue that. One ring forced Mr. Feld to restrain his pyrotechnics addictions , to calm down, chill out, and let the performers sell the circus themselves rather than the other stuff.

And then I watched my DVD of the 1968 television highlights of the Ringling show, hosted by Mike Douglas. (I'd only seen it once, then my player died.) They taped it during a performance in Baltimore under a hard top hardly glamorous. That was one of the best circuses I’d ever seen; watching portions of it on grainy film did not diminish the show’s inherent excellence, there was, ironically, a remarkable simplicity considering it was still very much a three-ring affair. The tricks were strong and simple, cleanly defined, efficiently executed. Three or four of the clowns, for example, all decked out to half-way look like race horses, came running down the final stretch when, just at the finish line, the neck of one extended far ahead, giving it a fake advantage. Very funny! So quick and to the point.

I enjoyed the amusingly ersatz-hip Carnaby Street, with Hugo Schmidt’s perky pachyderms moving nimbly from one feat to the next; the elegance of Antoinette Concello’s wonderfully inventive aerial ballet, Winter Wonderland. The rambunctious charm of Stephenson’s Dogs. The very funny riding Saxons, not just funny but experts at linking one item quickly into the next. The teeterboard Silagis, sans mechanics. The quiet control of Evy Althoff working a Siberian tiger and a horse through a well crafted routine of individual behaviors building to a nicely polished payoff.

To your right, stager-director Richard Barstow.

By today’s standards, these acts actually look better to my eyes. And we only get a sampling of the circus's '68 riches. Not included in the special were the likes of foot juggler Ugo Garrido, the Hergotti Troupe, The Boskays, Inbeborg Rhodin, Charly Bauman’s magnificent tiger spread, Erika Pinske. That was a show I saw several times when it came to Oakland that year; were it still on the road, I’d go again — and again. Heck, I might have to relearn the art of passing through the back door with the air of a Ringling staffer.

I am doubting you will ever see a return of Ringling to Coney, not with a new arena going up in the area in which they show is already booked to appear in a couple of seasons. And I hate to say this, but I don’t think Kenneth Feld is going to miss the tent. Yes, I know, he does not do art, has little patience for it. We are sure to get more Feld fireworks, and probably more new ringmasters telling us over and over again that we are at the greatest show on earth. More of the production overkill which likely drove Neil Genzlinger to concede, “Alas, you’ll go home with much less impressive trinkets, and possibly a headache, from this loud and pizazzy show ... Lost in the noise and the arena setting is some pretty amusing clowning. That circus art, at least, is made for a small tent, but given the economies of scale, is rarely seen in one these days.”

Yeah, more sledgehammer showmanship. Sorry to say, I am kind of looking forward to a summer away from all that stuff. Maybe Circus Vargas will deliver big this year.

And finally, to show you that I am not pitching the '68 DVD to make sales for anyone, just try getting it — from your favorite vendor.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Out of the Past, Showbiz Scramble: Bloomberg Debunks Spiderman's "Great Biz" ... Feld Folds Coney Canvas ... UniverSoul Nixes Pimp Panorama ... CDS Loves Russia $$$

First published March 4, 2011

"Forget everything you've read about Spider-Man doing great business at the box office," writes Jeremy Gerard in Bloomberg News, proceeding to spill the beans on how this show was ineptly hatched (sainted director Julie Taymor "was not about to be pushed around by a bunch of producers"); how it will take it at least 12 years and more to just earn back its $65 investment before it can start turning a profit; and why -- this one baffles me -- it has been taking in only 75 percent of its potential sales ... Rare is the musical that can survive a unanimous chorus of scathing notices (the case so far, but opening night, which may deliver a sliver of praise, yet to happen). Wicked was trounced by most of the critics, but not all. When I look at the Broadway League website which reports on weekly sales, what I see for Spider Man appears to indicate full houses. Evidently, I do not understand these stats in depth.

UniverSoul Nixes Pimps, Drug Heads, Hookers and Christian redemption. Public outrage boiled over after one woman with children complained about the sleazy finale, alleged by UniverSoul, defending its controversial sermons, only to teach women a way out of coerced hookerhood through Christ. Production featured strippers, misogyny, coke sniffing, and, I suppose, graphic allusions to retail sex. The whole sordid spectacle causing some people, at last, to ask the Big Question: What is circus? NO, that is not, they are answering back. So maybe the public will re-learn to appreciate what is circus, thank you, UnverSoul ...

Ringling Ditches Coney Island. No surprise to that, I never could imagine a nearly 3-month run turning a profit for the Feld coffers. Circuses don't cut it that way in this country. Never have. Never made sense. NBC News reporting the show drew 250,00 people to Coney the last two summers. Let's slice off 50,000 (allowing for likely spin), and figure, on average, each of the two tours pulling in a hundred thousand customers (I will kindly assume that all paid for their tickets, ha ha). How many shows per summer? Maybe, say, based on about, conservative estimate, seven shows a week, multiplied by 10 for a ten week frame: total of 70 shows, right? Here's my adding machine: 100,000 divided by 70 = 1,428 customers on average per show. Have you more accurate figures? (Steve Copeland?) I will miss Ringling at Coney; both shows were well worth the visit, the first opus, Boom-A-Ring, simply terrific.

Cirque du Soleil finds love, admiration and money in Russia. "We have never developed a market at the pace we are doing in Russia right now," says show's executive head, Daniel Lamarre to Reuters. No surprise here. After all, Cirque's artistic roots, I have long argued, lie deep in the old Soviet Union circus scene, so the Russians should naturally respond to what Guy Laliberte is bringing them with lavish embellishments. Cirque plans to sink $57 million into a new show to open in Moscow next year, "to test the ground before launching a permanent show in Russia by 2015," states Lamarre. The new show, Zarkana (I rather like) said to be the most expensive the company had produced to date. "If we have the success that I think we will have," promises Lamarre, "this will definitely confirm the means for a permanent presence." ... They need a substitute market for sinking Dubai in the desert...