Wednesday, May 30, 2018

ONE MONTH FROM TODAY: Showbiz David's New Book will be Prime Time Reading

Was it really a golden age?  Showbiz David's new book, due out on June 30,  gives a personal voice to the  excitement of watching TV in its start-up years.  From Milton Berle to Jack Paar, I Love Lucy to The Twilight Zone—Wrestling and Roller Derby to the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates—Prime Time Rising: Growing Up at the Dawn of Television offers a fast-moving panorama of television’s meteoric rise through the 1950s. The Book traces TV’s early-day programing milestones, and  how it matured as a news-reporting participant through one of the most polarizing decades in American history. A decade as reviled as it is revered. 

From Gunsmoke to Omnibus, rigged games shows to live dramatic adaptations equal to a seat at the theatre—they’re all here, honestly covered and thoughtfully reviewed.  Tune in for a prime time read one month from today!

"Travel through time … A treasure trove of early day TV programming … Introduces new audiences to these old-time shows, bringing them to life even for those without a prior familiarity with early television …. The special attraction of Prime Time Rising lies in its ability to retain and maintain a vividly engrossing atmosphere throughout."

                                              -- Midwest Book Review

Monday, May 21, 2018

The New Big Apple Circus: How Good — or Not So Good — Is It? Here's My Take ...

Good morning, Monday.  I now think I have amassed enough video evidence out there in You Tube land  to form an opinion of the new show, which opened last October in New York, and is still on the road, next stop, Philly. This is NOT a review, but my best guess at to its overall quality.

That said, it's possible that the better parts of some of these acts were not filmed, in which case, my remarks would be premature.

This post was hastened by my discovery of two You Tubes, apparently taken by patrons in the audience (if not plants), each around eight minutes long.  Against these, there are the video teases on the BAC website.  And there are the words of new BAC boss, Neil Kahnovitz, over the past few months to media, alluding to a performance that he likes to think is “superior” to what went before. At least one of the notices more or less conveyed the same impression.  All of which, in my opinion, shows an astonishing disregard for the legacy of Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, who co- founded “New York’s own” back in 1977 and who were prone to present, overall, a higher caliber of acts, many of world class stature. 

Based upon everything I have heard and read, and, most of all, what I have have seen on You Tube, this Big apple Circus is a skeleton of its former self.

Triumphant Tunizianis

Yes, a few of the acts impress, as we would  expect .  I think I saw  Ammed Tuniziani turn the quad, his lean streaming form as powerfully commanding as that of Miguel Vazquez.   And I saw the Wallenda 7-high walk, seen above, which felt more like a militaristic sprint across the wire in order to get there as fast as possible and avoid the unthinkable.  When I was a kid, seems the Wallendas took a slower, more majestic walk that prolonged and intensified the tension.

Other highlights?   The most riveting moment, in my book, would go to juggler Gamal Garcia Tunizini, whose brilliant ball bouncing exploits earn center ring respect.

The Anastasini brothers turn in a solid enough risely workout, although the extent of its variety is hard to estimate. 

Okay, as for the rest: What to get excited about?.

Roller skating?   The rolla bolla?  The bow and arrow?  One might wish to argue technical content in any of these.  That does not necessarily make them all that exciting to watch.    Jenny Vidbel’s horses prance about pleasantly, and her dogs are pleasant too.  I have seen far more engaging dog acts.  Vidbel once impressed me with her oddball collection of unlikely critters, including a skunk, and of how she produced some rare combos, such as, I recall, a goat riding a horse. I loved that stuff, and assume it is now gone.   She appears now to be temporizing over her every move, as if living in fear that she will be the next PETA target.   This action is timid. Great circus is not timid.   

Grandma is gone.  I found a video of Bary Lubin’s water gag.  Very funny — in spots, and so very long as to make too much of the spiting in gushes redundant.  What I always liked the most about Grandma was (1) her mere endearing presence. and (2) her more quickly executed gags.  The more she lingers, the less she appeals.

Costumes are not memorable.  Some of the music is.

Is that all there is? The overwhelming impression I get is of a skimpy lineup.

What Came Before

In years gone by:  The Dusov Troupe

From Dance On! The Kenyan Boys, above
The Wuqiano Acrobatic Troupe, below

I thought  back upon some great Big Apple shows I have seen in recent years: Picturesque  and Dance On! I went back to take another look at my DVD of 1989's Grandma Goes West.  That program is generously stocked with first-rate performers.  Among them, the most gifted and human-like elephant I have ever seen: Is that Benny Williams working Ana May? Lord of Circus Gods above!  Miracle of miracles!  What an inspiring collaboration between man and beast!  This is unreal.  This is surreal.  This is, drop dead, a revelation. Show that clip to parents and kids, and then ask them ...

In contrast to the above, some if not many of the acts in the current edition I would expect to find on smaller shows.

Coddled by the Times, Snubbed by the Post and the Daily News

Finally, I returned to the New York Times review, which drove a group of outraged fans over the edge, blasting reviewer Alexis Soloski as being totally unqualified   I will once again challenge those same malcontents to read the very positive Times review of the previous BAC show (The Grand Tour), written by the same critic. Was she equally inept when she wrote that review?

Ms. Soloski it seems, was not too impressed with what she saw at Lincoln Center last October.  But instead of being more direct in her  appraisal, she issued little digs.  And this plays into my theory that the Times decided in advance to give BAC a glowing pass. They had the carping report from Soloski to deal with, and so they held back on printing it for a week or so, and then gave the show a pre-ordained critics pick. (Curiously, neither the Post nor the Daily News reviewed the show.)

I think Soloski got it right when she signed off,  “Might as well take a bite.”

Let’s look to October, to see what kind of a program Dr. Kahnovitz can bring off next, assuming a second season is in the works. He has stated that they did not have the advance time needed to book the best acts for this, their first outing. Okay, doc, what  next have you to offer? I would suggest looking beyond our borders.