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

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

French Circus Festival Loves Animals -- Spreads Medals World Wide -- Germany Tops with Three -- U.S. Lands Two

Here are the results of the 2015 Massy International
 Circus Festival in France

Prize of the President of the Republic
Sokolov Troupe (Russia)  teeterboard

Gold Medals
Duss Family (Germany)   sea lions
Picasso Jr.  (Spain)   juggling
Zhang Fan (China)   slack wire

Silver Medals
Sacha Houcke & Gaby Dew (France)  liberty horses
Josef Richter Troupe  (Hungary)      bareback riders
Jordan McNight (United States)      contortion

Bronze Medals
Adriana Folco (Italy)      elephants
Duo Vanegas (Colombia)   wheel of death
Carmen Zander  (Germany )             tigers
Olimpo's Brothers  (Brazil)       hand to hand

Jury Special Award
Bello Nock (United States)     clown

Rosgoscirk Prize
Kai Cao (China)       rebound juggler

City of Massy Prize
Pavel Vyakin (Russia)  bears

Brittany Circus Prize
Celine Moreno (France)  host / presenter

Strass 2000 Prize
Adriana Folco (Italy)  elephants

French Circus Club Prize
Carmen Zander (Germany)   tigers

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Now Appearing at Theatre YouTube: Mary Martin in South Pacific – YES – Mary Martin! .... 2nd Feature: Kelli O’Hara in the Broadway Revival ... Curtain Up on the Digital Proscenium!

Ever wish you could have seen Mary Martin in South Pacific? If you’re willing to be the only person in the theatre, now you can.  But if grainy black and white film leaves you wanting, link in a blink to a front row seat at the glorious Lincoln Center revival of 2008.

And give your regards to YouTube!

Blessed with one of Broadway’s greatest scores ever, and with the courage to explore the perilous intersection of love and racial prejudice, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 hit, South Pacific, became the second longest-running Broadway musical at the time (behind only another, longer-running, R&H smash,  Oklahoma), and was awarded a Pulitzer prize for drama.

When it was revived, in 2008, at Lincoln Center, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, I was won over by the production’s shimmering professionalism  — 36 musicians in the pit, expansive sets that seemed to extend clear across the sea.  So thrilling, indeed, that I returned to New York the following year to see the show once again (from, as I would luck out, a superior seat), and liked it even more.

Keep in mind, for the point of this post, that I was watching it from a single fixed position.

Was it really that good?

No musical is perfect, not even South Pacific.  They are best seen in the medium for which they were conceived. On film in 1958, South Pacific fairly sustained its glowing reputation.  On television in 2001, with Glen Close playing (or slaying) the role of Nellie Forbush, it did not.

There is now a third emerging venue for Broadway addicts  — viewing filmed performances of musicals.  You can watch the Live From Lincoln Center film of South Pacific, broadcast on PBS in 2010, all the way through without breaks, on YouTube.   But beware: Multiple camera angles and closeups will be telling you where to look every beat of the way. And you may find yourself gazing up close at something you have long admired, only to discover flaws in the fabric.  Or rather, in this particular fabric.   Here are some of my reactions to the 2008 revival:

Some assets:

* Amdrew Samonsky's Lt. Joseph Cable marks the best acting performance in the show.  Although I miss his predecessor Matthew Morrison's stronger rendition of "Younger than Springtime," Samonsky's uniquely wrought Cable is even more impressive here.

* Loretta’s Ables Sayre’s Bloody Marry also favors a grittier realism, which deepens the tension in her angry confrontation with Cable over his refusal to marry Liat.  Another bravo performance.

* My Girl Back Home: How lucky we are to have this song!  It was dropped out of town from the original New York bound production, reinstated in the 1958 movie, as it is here.  The number's poignant innocence marks the genius of Dick and Oscar in mining lyrical gold from common ordinary moments between common ordinary people.  My brother Dick pointed out to me how Oscar Hammerstein, tellingly, did not write, for Cable to sing,  “I loved her a lot,” but “I liked her a lot.”

 * More realism in the wartime atmosphere and military scenes, credit advanced stage technology.

Some  drawbacks:

* Kelly O’Hara’s Nellie Forbush suffers a little from the SC factor: squeaky clean.   

* Paulo Szot’s Emile DeBeque is just okay. In closeups, Szot looks more like a fine singer dutifully acting than a fine actor having lost himself in the role.  Nor does Szot bring the illusion of advanced age to the role that Ezio Pinza did in the original.

* Between O’Hara and Szot, then, there is little age difference on the surface, thus rendering mute the younger woman-older man theme from the original that strengthened  the show’s social daring-do.  Easy to imagine the producers shunning this issue in order not to alienate all of those young girls out there said to keep Times Square ticket windows humming.
* Danny Burstein’s funny-to-fading Luther Billis disappoints:  Burstein starts out on a strong comedic note in “Nothing Like a Dame,” but then proceeds to slowly lose levity, as his persona hardens into the second act, making his drag scene in “Honey Bun” more a drag than a laugh. 

* Tediously long military dialogue: My biggest gripe with Oscar Hammerstein has been the excessive stretches of dialogue that mark his librettos.  Example here, Billis getting reprimanded for his shenanigans at sea.  This labored office encounter could have been dispensed with in less than half the lines.  



She, too, now lives on in YouTube,  albeit, in a black and white film of the 1951 London production at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, said to have been a virtual duplicate of the Broadway original, but without an audience present.  The show was filmed in 16mm  on Tuesday,  May 6, 1952, by four cameras, one placed in the balcony of the theatre.  The quality of the film is rough, not all scenes ideally -- or even quite fully -- framed.  For music theatre buffs, however, watching this may feel akin to discovering a long-lost and very rare archeological dig.  Writing about it in Playbill, Steven Suskin justly hails  “Mary Martin's legendary performance; not a Hollywood version, reconfigured for the screen, but Mary doing precisely what she did on stage when South Pacific first opened”

Martin proves herself all over again.   Sugar in her heart, yes-maybe, but deep down in them there bones, there is vinegar, too. ( She debuted on Broadway in a racy 1938 Cole Porter Musical, singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” waking up the next morning a star.)  I had never fully realized what a great actor she was, not just a musical theatre superstar, until now.   She IS Nellie Forubsh.  Another revelation is her terrific way with dancing, as full of magical animation as a Disney carton.  A miracle of mirth in motion. Has there ever been anyone like her? Will there ever be again?

Some other impressions.                                     

Balli Ha'i: A song that I have long regarded as lovely if a tad long –  I now regard as phenomenal, thanks to Murel Smith’s powerfully embracing rendition of the number, lifting it, and practically the entire theatre, into a transcendent mystical realm.  Little wonder hers would be the singing voice lip synced by Juanita Hall in the 1958 film.

Major miscasting:  Peter Grant, as Lt. Cable, delivers his songs well, but cuts a remarkably ineffectual figure.  On the upside, Fredd Wayne’s warmly amusing Luther Billis is about as funny as would Phil Silvers have been, had he played the role.

Well paired:  Wilbur Evans merges fine acting with commanding vocals to forge a persuasively earnest DeBeque, making him an ideal match for Martin.

Even Tony and Maria didn't hit the sack this fast, or did they?  The Cable- Liat overnight romance in a dubiously pay-as-you-lay-setting, neither speaking the other's language, continues to strain credibility.  Of course, all is forgiven given the glorious younger-than-springtime that follows, right? 

Prolonged military strategy scenes, especially in Act II, are even more tedious here than those in Bartlett Sher’s Lincoln Center staging, stopping the show dead in its tracks.  But, then again, with no audience in the house, you are at a major disadvantage, it being understood that audience reactions influence our own reactions.  Well, all of us except for maybe John Simon.

All of this having been said, just being able to see Mary Martin in the bloom of this great American musical is a true and lasting treasure. 
When I talked up the Lincoln Center revival with my brother, urging him to consider flying back to New York to see it, I tempered my enthusiasm with this caveat:

“However, I should tell you — it is still South Pacific.”

Well, no, I should have added, “It is still South Pacific –  minus Marty Martin”


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Big Tops Round the World: First "American" Circus Awards ... to The Daring Young Comrade on the Korean Trapeze ...

American Circus Awards, Really?  Touted by Circus Now to be the first annual handouts, and presented in the Big Apple Circus tent, here they are:

* The Community Impact Award: Big Apple Circus
* The Evolving Circus Award: Gypsy Snider, for directing circus acts into Pippin.
* The Elevating Circus Award: Phillipe Petit, high wire stunt man

Also featured during the celebration were “several of America’s most esteemed performers," including  Nico & Charlotte from the Montreal based 7 Fingers and members of BAC cast.  Some misc. musings:

* Is Montreal part of America?  And if it is, then what about circus in South America? 

* Why Frenchman Phillipe Petit?  If we are really talking American, why not  the arguably more accomplished Nik Wallenda, who was actually born in the United States of America?  (Oh, that's right, Nik didn't write ten books -- publish or you're just another peanut pusher)

*  Why so few categories, and who were the judges?

*  Another futile attempt to put the U.S. on the international map?  The affair strikes me as elitist, and when you look at Circus Now's underpinnings, it's academic.  I admire their reach, I doubt much will come of it.  Elsewhere in the world, where aspiring circus performers spend more time over sawdust than before classroom chalk boards, real circus schools are producing real ring stars, and real festivals are honoring world class talents.  Not here.  Not yet.  Nice try, Circus Now.   Next time, how about spending a little time outside New York city?  There's a circus called Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey that you might want to check out, too.

His grand kids wanted to leave the circus at intermission, Humbug!  That would be Tim Torkildson, writing in Circus Report about a day at the circus – the show having it all, to his eyes,  but still unable to hold his i-Brats beyond the break.  Refuses to name the show, which undermines the potential value of the article's depth, and so I wrote to  the Biggerstaffs asking, why?  Jan e-mailed me back, promising to ask Tim for the name of the circus. Don't count on Tim answering.

Okay, check your politics at the red wagon.  Let’s travel to one of those far off lands where they spend less time navel gazing on the “static trapeze,” more time turning multiple somersaults through the air.   Drum rolls, comrade, if you please ...  or if you don’t please!

North Korean exceptionalismPlanet Circus raving over a new flying act seen at a festival, conceived up there in that moral void, featuring a mind-boggling array of inventive action, Russian swing included, but rooted in true muscle power and including — QUAD ALERT!  QUAD ALERT!  — yes, a flyer turning quads. "... not only leaves you speechless because of its tricks," writes Helmut Grosscurth, "but it is also fun to watch because of its smooth choreography and fluent moves." What is it about tyranny, communism and Buddha that produces some of our most riveting ring stars?  Might it be a climate of oppression that fosters rigorous restraint in the face of hardship, and the fierce self-discipline necessary to succeed just the same?  Just wondering, Comrade ...   Okay, back to the American way ...

Remarkable Circus Performance from Big Apple:  Another great DVD I just purchased from Tim Tegge, taking us back to 1989 (still, in my view, the last great decade for circus in America) -- Grandma Goes West.  A rich outing, coated in the mystique of the old west, finely directed with six outstanding acts (at least), presided over by ringmaster Paul Binder, another class act, opening the show and then remaining a silent presence throughout.  Funny, but Grandma, hardly as amusing as I had expected, is hardly the star of this great opus.  The score was an asset. And, oh, the most talented performing animal I have EVER seen, Anna May, presented by and performed with the masterful  Ben Williams. This incredibly gifted elephant, who dazzled Circus Vargas crowds, leaves me speechless. It was like watching a Disney animation.  DVD highly recommended.

Ooops!  Enough for now.  More later ...