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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Relief from Boob Tube Banalities: TV's Many Other Windows I Am Now Just Opening: Thriving Vietnam Today Stirs Painful Memories of War; Old TV Shows Recall Simpler-Saner Times, Pre-Mass Shootings

And it's about time!

By accident, I discovered a number of channels I have with Comcast that I have overlooked  How rich and refreshing it is to look into the past, or across into Asia. Here are some captured photos from both disparate realms: 

Can you name the country where this game show takes place?  Read on ...

Theeeeres Johnny!  Before Tonight, Johnny Carson showed up on a great game show, To Tell the Truth.  Three people each introduce themselves by the same name.  The panelists, taking turns, ask them questions, trying to figure out who is the actual person.  So intriguing.  I'm surprised this show has never been revived in some format.

The country is Vietnam. The channel, Vietoday.  The game show is called Mot Phut De Chien Thang. This dancing MC is flashy good fun.  Contestants balance and manipulate objects in semi-juggling fashion.  A gas.

They try stacking objects into intricate formations.  They try blowing balls into  -- I don't know where there were intended to go..  And when they succeed, they victory-dance around the stage with the MC.

What a surprise!  I know all about TV Land, but I would  never have expected to find any early program from 1952 anywhere but, if lucky, at the Museum of TV and Radio in Beverly Hills or New York.  Okay, bash the fifties if you must.  What among many things did that despised decade lack?   Teenage infidelity as a spectator sport, for one.  Frighteningly frequent coverage of bloody mass shootings, for another.  Here, you see Miss Brooks and Mr Boynton, the eternal object of her pining for romance, played by Robert Rockwell, whose son, Jeffrey, played Al Ringling in my musical Those Ringlings when first presented in Los Angeles.

Advance by 65 years to our ambitious young Asians.

On a Vietnamese talent show, this kid made the four chairs turn for him, and brought one judge to his feet.

At least American influences are being put to non-violent means these days.

But not a single chair turned to face  this girl.  Two kind judges ran out to console her.  Touching moment.

These talent show are easy to watch, even without my understanding a word of the language.  On the other programs, I do my best trying to read body language. 

Superman!   Another rare discovery, from  1952 on MeTV. 

The fifties also gave us Lois Lane, fearless reporter, and a female no less, for the Daily Planet, day job employer of Clark Kent when he wasn't flying about in his famous cape.

And ... Lois revives this miner, near death in a collapsed mine shaft.   Just in time for Superman to swoop down to the rescue.

Asian kiddies:  I've seen many young tots, some hardly out of diapers, blasting out American pop and banging away on guitars for a shot at local stardom. I think this was off a major channel that broadcasts shows from Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Upside down goes the little girl!

Back to the fifties when we had live drama, when I first saw Death of a Salesman and Waiting for Godot on mainstream TV.  Both were outstanding.  Yes, bash the fifties for not bringing us more sophisticated programming, such as that offered today by Jerry Springer and  Maury Povich, among other icons of enlightenment.

Here's a scene from Studio One, 1958, presented LIVE.  I remember watching these dramatic  adaptations, more famously remembered from Playhouse 90,and sometimes glimpsing a camera at the edge of the screen.  Can you name the man at the center? Answer below.

Such a beautiful country.  And such real people. 

I discovered a series, nearing its end, set in a small Vietnamese village along the river, focusing on the everyday lives of families, work to recreation.  Humorous moments were whimsically scored by squeaky toots from a brass instrument.  Even their sense of humor is more subtle than ours.

In one episode, this boy went to a swimming competition with his village friends, and I think he won.  The bus ride to and from was charming.  Here, he has spotted an approaching tiger.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Blundering Big Tops: Ringling Ditches Portland-Seattle ... Big Apple Pitches Pony Rides .... Fly-Shy Circus Vargas Dishes Half a Show ... And the Elephants Apply for Assisted Living ... Who Said the Circus Was Alive and Well?

Something happened at the Big Apple Circus that nearly took my breath away.  No, not an act of art, but an act of commerce. Commerce of the kind you normally do not associate with “New York’s own.”

Well, now, New York’s own sells pony rides!  Yes, they are that flat out desperate, it appears, this being another of their recent Make-or-Break Seasons.   Another round of bailout money from Wall Street Greed may yet come to another rescue.

I once wrote a book called Fall of the Big Top and one fan of good intent, likely speaking for many others, was Don Covington, himself then company manager for the Big Apple Circus.  Don e-mailed me his pleasure over many memories my book brought back. But he also wanted to make clear being understandably at odds with my misleading subtitle: The Vanishing American Circus.  Wrote Don, “American circus has not vanished, it is vital and evolving.”

Don may have been right, then. Now, the word devolving seems apt. In fact, the subtitle should have read The Vanishing Great American Three Ring Circus.   That’s what I was really thinking.  And so the blame lies with me for ticking off anybody else out there who felt the blunt edge of overstatement.  And still ... Now, if you will pardon my incredible disrespect, I am wondering if in fact the American circus is in any form, old, new, in rehab or on parole, not slowly vanishing?

In peak Big Apple years.  Marty and Jake LaSalle, 2008, just plain terrific.

The stomach-turning news of the pony ride felt like the last nail in a coffin.  Pray it ain’t so.  Reaching beyond White Tops and Circus Report for a sliver of reality, I found but one review on Trip Adviser.  Be warned, the following content may not be suitable for circus fans of any age:

 “Its expensive, the acts are dated and boring, both me and our 10 year old fell asleep. Everything is overpriced and the stupid pony rides a big ripoff. Ok if you're 5 and never seen a circus before.”

Fair, balanced, and boring: I must say, from the photos I’ve seen of the new show, it looks quite promising.  Reviews?  Count on the New York papers to usually give New York's own circus a valentine pass.  
What next under the Big Apple tent?   Mass audience participation?   They could sell seats in the ring itself, making it easier for audience members (or shills) to already be in place when a clown comes calling.   A one hour Shrine-like intermission for peanut peddling?  (Hey, I might go for some cashews.)  The passing of a ringmaster’s hat?

The audience getting into the act is what's packing our tents these days, right?  Hey, you won't see that at Monte Carlo!

Around other beleaguered rings, more reason to rue the same.  Take Ringling, dumping Pacific Northwest dates, Seattle and Portland not deemed profitable enough to justify rail bills into the region. Locals up there none to thrilled.  Where instead will the trains now be routed:     Berkeley?  The Bermuda Triangle?

Feldishly fading: The Gold unit is history. So, of course, soon the pachyderms, destined for medicare and Assisted Living. 

Meet forced Floria retiree Mabel, being fitted for glasses under JumboCare.

Half a Vargas:   If you go, be prepared for a great first half (to be kind, I am overlooking a lame story line too cliche to credit): a sure hand in the gifted direction to cheer; excellent taped music; inventive staging around two jugglers working simultaneously; a clown, Alex Acero, who is very funny when he is being a clown (see my write-up about him a few posts down).  There is the commanding Patrick Marinelli, an illusionist and fabrics flyer of swaggering star power; terrific trampoline and wall bouncing exploits.   There's a lovely (rather than mandatory) aerial ballet featuring the winning Cathy Poema on a compelling lyra workout, and without wires.  So, into the break, the artfully exciting first half delivers big.  And this even without a double wheel and Marinelli on straps -- two turns advertised but not seen the day in Hayward when I went.  I felt so good, that I prayed the feeling would carry over into the last half.   A solid 3-star show, minimum, in the making.

Now, if you go and feel as elated as I did at the half way mark and wish to hold that feeling on your way out, then on your way out should be at intermission. Stop there.  Run, do not walk, but LEAVE.   What will you be missing?  Other than the classy Poema family on risely, whose once cute little boy now struggles to redefine his persona (a diet would help) nothing else is notable. Nothing.   Never have I seen so many “flyers” doing so little on the flying trapeze.  With only one hundred plus in the tent the day I went, guess they weren’t in the mood.  Never are when I’m there.  Maybe if they performed no matter the house size, more people would show up.  I counted two motorcycles in the big globe. Whoopee.   Dull.  Empty.  Done.

Vargas feels like a circus not wanting to be a circus.  Lots of Cirque du Soleil posturing this year. End point offers vacuously irrelevant ensemble dancing.   Such a let down after the stellar first half.   Good golly, Molly,  would it break payroll or cause PETA to riot if a dog act was allowed into the ring.  Just a dog act?

All these depressing developments are pushing my pen into Big Think mode.  Gotta warm up another cup of Gen Mai Chi tea.  There’s a thread I’m threading through all of this — a reason why, no matter what they do, the public may still stay away in large numbers.  And here it is:

Enter the ambivalent circus audience

Come back someday, and I might run with it.


First posted November 10, 2015