Friday, June 24, 2011

A Break From Heaven For Big Apple Circus: Show Spared the Indignities of Performing at Ball Parks

What a blessed relief! The ballpark dates have been canceled, part of a bigger promotional package that fell through.

I trust everyone connected to Big Apple Circus is, or should soon be once they come to their senses, elated to be spared such an artistic nightmare. This wonderful circus, a national treasure, deserves so much more than to be cast in a beer can setting.

Call me naive: I feel a better day coming on. Thank you up there, Gods of Higher Circus Art.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The House of Ringling Beckons --- From Northbrook Ireland, From the Lanes of Talburt ...

From John Ringling North II, now in his fifth season as owner-producer of Kelly Miller Circus, which makes him a graduate student in big top survival, comes the lovely program magazine for the current tour. John personally sent it to me by old fashioned mail from his cow digs in Ireland. By subtle degrees, we may be watching the rebirth of the House of Ringling matriculate.

The North of Norths has opened the tent wide up and let the sun fly in. This edition, as you can see, is bathed in light blue hues (charms more in person), graced with shapes of yellow and some fine photography by Mr. Radar (Ryan Easley). Fine design marks go to Jaklyn Groom,whom I take it arranged the attractively graceful layout.

Circus programs were a threatened species for a season or three. Carson & Barnes still does not carry one. Cole Bros. has reinstated its; Circus Vargas sold a pricey issue at the Hollywood lot. By that measure alone, are we to intelligently conclude that circuses are doing better these distressed days? Hope so.

Now, Mr. John the Sequel is a seemingly cool, laid back dude, sort of the kind of guy I pictured when a number of years ago he let me interview him by transatlantic telephone hookup about his famed Uncle, JRN I -- the two are diametrical opposites.

I've been clued in on the exact dates (am I boasting?) of John's next tour of pleasure with his circus, due to commence in summer, complete with invitation to crack concessions over, I guess, laughs. "We could share a bag of Peterson Peanuts," offered he in his handwritten missive. The House of Ringling remains passive aggressively PC-averse. I can't imagine King Otto tolerating such technological indifference.

More on Kelly-Miller: From Lane Talburt, who spent many years in TV news, at newspaper desks and in public relations, comes a link worth the link -- to a recent interview he did with the show's infinitely likable young clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs. A breezy pair these two laugh makers are. Talked a lot about day-to-day hauls from one lot to the next. My only surprise was the assertion of, I think Ryan, that their routines are set and do not change. Come on, guys! You tell us all the time about revising and tinkering, trying this and trying that, no? Anyway, they strike me as a PR asset for the circus. Referencing Steve's troubled truck history, a wryly humorous Talbert opined, "Maybe they could host a cable channel show on vehicle repair" VERY funny!

So good was the impression left on my eyes and ears by Talbert's seasoned professionalism, allowing his subjects ample time to participate, that I gave his visit to the Alain Zerbini Family Circus a look. Finally, that show has a face to me.

Here's a link to the Copeland-Ryan interview. From there, you'll find other interviews.


Maybe roving report Lane can get JRN II to talk. If he resists, Lane, I'd suggest you take issue with his Peterson peanut pitch. You just might get invited in to break nuts together. And talk clown truck repair.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Out of the Past: Sex & Sizzle: Cirque du Soleil's 'Homoerotic' Hollywood ... Ringling's Never Fully Charged Without a Fire ... Well, Have You Anything Better?

Originally published June 19, 2011 

Covington Cornered (by incoming news flashes), let's have at some of 'em, starting off with a juicy preview, brief but (?) ominous, as to that Hollywood opus from Cirque du Soleil at the Kodak Theatre, soon to test its juice on locals and far away sight seekers, assuming the latter will climb all the way up the stairs to the Kodak at Hollywood and Highland (other efforts at the same venue having, so far, failed to catch showbiz fire). Here's the L.A. Press reporting on a sneak look at Iris: A Journey Through the World of Cinema. Story gives prime focus to Iris composer, Danny Elfman, whose credits include Big Top Pee Wee. As I hazily recall, Elfman infused the Pee Wee flick with a beguiling and delightful quasi-Fellini Clowns treatment ...

As for Iris itself, seen by a privileged few, the writer, L.J. Williamson, sounds not too impressed by segments that come "dangerously close to trite and hackneyed Universal Studio Tour-style depictions of 'movie magic.'" Nor does he seem thrilled with the "wide-eyed, in-over-his-head character that stumbles awestruck through the action as a stand-in for the audience." But L.J.W concedes (making the report sound all-too-familiar), "it's tough to feel jaded" over the high-flying acrobats, who, during one sequence, work a trampoline depicting cops and robbers to music "evoking" West Side Story. "If only the Sharks and the Jets could have bounced so high." ... My two cents worth? The Vegas Cirque shows backed with music by pop icons likely click because the music and circus compliment each other; how well the circus in Cirque can work with film imagery may be something else ...

Let's go blazingly mad! Not exactly celebrated for French subtleties in its staging bluster, Ringling-Barnum is this year touring the Human Fuse (love the name!), Mr. Spark Plug being ex-cannon performer Brian Miser (his protege, Evel Knievel), who produces good press copy. You see him up there on fire doing a PR tease in Vegas during a Ringling date. His suit is composed, so goes the spin, of fireproof Carbonex, and his trajectory covers 110 feet at 65 mph in just two seconds from a 20-foot-tall crossbow. Sounds sensational to me. "You get one chance to get all the settings right," says he, "because once you're flying through the air, you can't change anything. If you're going too far, you can't slow down." And might that mean, while in flight, no texting or sexting? Just wondering ...

Heck, let's go back up there to the Kodak. I promised you a little heat, and here it is: An Iris act that did rouse LJW to purring prose are two guys who fondle each other flying back and forth on webs. "A pleasantly homoerotic aerial routine" in which the duo can be observed "folding, wrapping and spinning their muscled bodies around each other like airborne eels, making up for that hot imaginary circus sex that Zuamanity promised but failed to deliver. More please." Let's see, we are across the street from Disney's family movie house the El Capitan in ostensibly squeaky clean, trans-Asian touristy Hollywood. How much do you want to bet the fondling duo don't end up going at it on the cutting room floor? ...

End Ringers: Circus posters as great art? That's a message coming out of the Cincinnati Art Museum, hosting the "Amazing American Circus Poster" (80 gems in all) from the famed Strobridge company. You won't talk me out of my high regard for the art in many of these strikingly composed images. What still tops my memory is the first time I laid eyes on one of Unus. Exhibit continues through July 10, then heads down to Sarasota at the Ringling Museum, September 17-January 29 ... Kelly-Miller Circus thrills Manhattan's KLS Dad, who, following my example of moving myself from Gotham by train to the Cole show in NJ, found rails up to Kelly-Miller's Cortland Manor appearance in upstate New York. Despite rainy day delays, KLS loved the show. Among his accolades, "Casey McCoy and his tigers did CIRCUS proud!" ... Clowns Steven and Ryan were "exceptionally gifted." Tickled was he by the "talented yelping dogs," by "THREE WONDERFUL ELEPHANTS," and by that charming Poema kid who "brought down the house!" (I can vouch for that) ... Ah, now for printing this, maybe the Big Top Brethren will grant me a brief parole off their black list; so lonely there, the only name being mine ...


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Frisco and Feld Make Up: Big Show Returns to Cow Palace; Other Bay Area Bound Big Tops Include Circus Bella and Cirque's "Totem"

Ringling-Barnum at the Cow Palace, 1948.

The End of the Snub: Here in my mail box, a bright flashy flyer from Ringling-Barnum, touting a date at the Cow Palace over the Labor Day weekend. So, the two parties are talking again. Back to the city that once "knew how" goes the Big Show's Fully Charged edition, its advance ad copy favoring animals and clowns. Might that alone mean that American audiences who flock -- or trickle out -- to see the latest Ringling still favor, in fact demand the roar of a tiger, the trunk of a pachyderm? And I'm tempted to make the long humdrum transit haul over there; something about that old barn that brings back sacred memories; over there, I saw the '55 show for the second wonderful time, having first seen it under canvas the very day before in Richmond. Already, I feel faintly charged. But, all fanship aside, I still don't see great crowds storming the turnstiles. S.F. narcissists, a tad emboldened by old Pickle Family Circus no-animals-here elitism -- prolonged by the chronic snobbery of the S.F. Circus Center -- have conditioned themselves to snub anything that performs on four legs, that is, all except for the human variety under strobe lights at a late-night garage S&M party.

Other Frisco visitors: The slightly less little Circus Bella, kicking up comedy and juggling gusto across several Bay Area locations this summer. Nice to know they are still out there. Once they get a little name, other dates are sure to follow, and then all they need is their very own tent.

Then comes, October time, Cirque du Soleil's Totem, a unit I am looking forward to seeing. Show plays in a parking lot near the Giants baseball park in S.F. Lovely location.

So, given the parade of circuses heading west, why not Kelly-Miller? Seems biz is way down over there, per a pouting Steve Copeland. Might a reason be that the show is much too similar to last years? In fact, this show seems almost frozen in time, unable to turn itself over from one season to the next. Just what was John Ringling North II thinking when he decided, or defaulted to keeping intact the same company? Too nice a guy to give anybody pink slips? Too dependent on the possible kindness of his current performers to work for, how to put this, highly agreeable wages? Heck, out here they'd be playing to all-new audiences, so their show would look just as fresh as it did -- two or three seasons ago.

Trouble might be, could a certain clown car (or truck) operated, on some days, by joey Steve, even make it all the way out to the Golden State? Heck, they might advertise Steve's perilous early-morning put puts onto the lot. I'd love to be up early enough to see him fearlessly at the wheel, coaxing his little 1/2 cylinder make-do aggravation into view. Oh, why am I thinking this: a rainy morning would make the event picture perfect!

The Wallendas do Karl's Death Walk: Down there in Puerto Rico, where Karl's life came to an end in 1978 at the age of 73, 100 hundred feet above the ground during a long walk between two seaside towers, his great grandson Nik Wallenda, recreated the stunt. Joining Nik was his mother, Delilah, in her late 50s. No safety net. Starting at opposite ends, the two met in the middle. Delilah sat down on the wire so that her son could walk over her. They both reached salvation on the other side.

These demonstrations of human courage are becoming less and less a part of the show. When even today's younger generation of performers defend the use of mechanics, in effect, wondering if those -- like me -- actually favor tragic outcomes, there you have pretty stunning evidence of how the circus world itself is turning away from the spectacle of the true daredevil. But don't count the beleaguered daredevil out just yet. You'll see him/her in other forums if not under the big top, thrilling a public still wishing to be truly thrilled. Call it the human condition. To me, it symbolizes the daring-do of astronauts shooting off into space, of mountain climbers, of ...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cirque du Soleil at Radio City: NY Times Suggests Possible Trouble Ahead; KLS Dad at Previews Calls Zarkana "Irritating ... Boring!!"

When all else fails, give 'em circus

You can read in the New York Times a marvelous in-depth profile on Guy Laliberte, who rules Cirque du Soleil, described bearing "a wolfish grin, mangled pinky and a bald head shaped like a bullet." Blame the bent pinky on a cooking mishap. Mr. L. may eventually also rule the world -- if he can just have his way with New York and London, two of the Big Three Global entertainment centers he has yet to capture by his own account. He has Vegas. And he's back in NY trying his luck at a larger stage, the one called Radio City Music hall, where Zarkana is now in previews..

Jason Zinoman of the Times landed prime time up in Montreal with the Cirque King, and turned out a vivid portrait of one of the greatest showbiz impresarios who has ever lived -- so far, and this King is only 50 or 51. One of his many creative underlings, Philippe Decoufle, director of Iris -- another Cirque show about to open at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre -- describes the King as " a very nice bulldozer." Laliberte concedes what a flop Banana Shpeel was; some blame it on the King's not being within easy reach while the show was struggling to find itself on a NY stage -- the head man was up in space orbiting the earth for a breezy $35 million ticket fee.

Try to get a handle on this: Cirque's 22 current productions around the world "sell about as many tickets as all Broadway shows combined." Next year, revenue is expected to exceed $1 billion for the first time. Are we now on the same page?

He practically owns Vegas. But he wants more. "New York and London are still on my checklist." Sounds like the guy has a sense of humor. One thing he has in spades: producing guts. Doubtful we will ever see his like again. Remember a man named P.T. Barnum? At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, P.T. is looking more and more like a puppet show proprietor compared to the man with the bullet head.

In another Times story on the same subject, Zinoman reports closeup on final rehearsals and endless tinkering over what may be another troubled property; Zinoman was granted rare access. And from his account, I infer that the Cirque crowd still have a way of trying to be theatre without a clue as to what makes a drama a drama (not a circus, by the way -- the two animals are so different). But they are aiming this time to "connect a story that will be touching," says the show's lead, Quebec pop star Garou and "close friend of Mr. Laliberte" (reported, otherwise, not to have many close friends at all). At the time of the interview, Garou was observed to be wanting "his character to grow."

Might be stretch, that. After all kinds of muddling about in the key of Shakespeare, seems the company retreated back to its usual safe haven down there on ersatz sawdust, which evidently did not displease the Big Boss any too much. Late last May, about to exit in a black waiting van, said Laliberte, "We did what we set out to do... It's not a musical. It's not theatre. At the end of the day, we give people what they want: It's a circus."

And it just began previews last evening at Radio City. One of the first customers to take his seat was our very own NY correspondent KLS Dad, who to my knowledge has never orbited earth. Here are some of his immediate reactions:

"Went up to my beloved Radio City Music Hall last night ... feeling sure I was going to be bowled-over with the show. Two words come to mind........... irritating.... boring.......!! There are some knock-out acts, such as the 10-person dual level perch and triple bar flying act... But .. what did they do but put so much giant spider web LED scenery behind them .. and a screaming songstress in the head of the spider performing another of the 'rock opera' songs!! of which had me on verge of walking out on a few occasions.

"I was not disappointed that they could not get the wires anchored for the 'Wheel of Death'.. Also bored with the acts such as the production number with the spinning hoops, the lady doing sand painting for at least an hour (OK..maybe 10 LONG MINUTES) right after intermission.. the very slow flying clown (out over the audience).. another half hour???? Well.. too damn long!! And the group of 'Swiss?? flag tossers!!!!!!!! Get the hook!!!

"All in all.. I feel the production so over powers the performers.. and it isn't magical either to listen to..or watch. And.. with the non-stop music there's not much opportunity for the audience to applaud. And most went on for too damn long... Another example - the 15+ acrobat troop at the end."

KLS would like his money back.

Thanks to Don Covington for linking me to the Times stories.