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

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Morning Midway: Gong in the Gold ... The Unencumbered Joy of Circus We Once Knew

Last night on the Gong Show, there came a kid, wholesome, sweet disposition, on a unicycle.  Okay, what might he do, I wondered, thinking mid-level. Eager aspirant maybe trained in a class room. Average routine.  Oh,  what a false prophet  I was on this one.  The kid blew me away with his act.  Name is Wesley Williams. He's billed The One Wheel Wonder.  I did a little cyber looking.  He  comes from Florida, and I wondered if he is a Williams from the famous Williams.  Didn't find the connection.  Seems he has a little Ringling in his resume, some Smirkus, too ... So rare to see an American born talent rising to the top.  He could do Big Apple. He could do Kelly Miller ...  Heck, give him a few more years, and he could do Monte Carlo.   And, to think, made in America!

Neat to know that Big Apple Circus is still on the road.  They've put up dates for Lincoln Center, and how surprising that they will play not a part January, but the whole damn month.  Opens October 20.  I am anxious to see what Opus 2 from the good Doctor will deliver. He has been spinning  a recurring theme: We Had to make do with what we could get on short notice.  Okay, Doc, what can you show us now on long notice? 

Gong Show Gold: Another terrific act was a girl with dog, the dog flying all over the place. Loved it. From AGT to the Big Gong,  I am realizing how much we have lost beneath too much cirque-y production garnish and goo.   Paul Binder knew it when for a moment, one of his shows was all covered with Cirque-like masks. Off they came before the show went on. 

AGT and the Gonger let the acts be acts.  I remember when late old timer Tom Upton would set up a projector backstage at Polack, and the fans would gather round to watch film footage of acts.   Acts alone.

What mostly should have been gonged off the Gong Show were the timid, temporizing judges, each seeming to wonder what they others might say before they put out a score.  But the payoff was when acts tied, and the final vote went to the audience.  Old fashioned and fun!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Coming Soon to a Theatre or Tablet Near You: PBS on American Circus History --- Warner Bros. on Leitzel & Codona -- Disney on a New Dumbo ... And There's More on the Inside! ...

Still waiting-praying for a great  new movie on the  circus, might PBS have the ticket? Come October 8,  American Experience to present a two-part, four-hour documentary. The Circus.    I can’t wait.  I keep telling myself that somewhere, somehow, a film maker is bound to stumble upon big top gold.  It’s  loaded with triumph and tragedy, skullduggery and betrayal and spangled glory.  Too much of this is too often ignored (The Greatest Showman) or grossly overdone (Water for Elephants).

Also come October, comes the return of Big Apple Circus to Lincoln Center — IF BAC returns.  My projection is devoid of solid evidence, although a very nice lady who answered the phone when I called (she sounded like the member of an Old World circus family) told me, yes, they are coming back, she thinks, or I am the one thinking?  She just does not know when. Anybody out there know what kind of business they have been doing?  Anybody out there still reading this? (Update: Show opens at Lincoln Center October 20)

Hollywood is on a sawdust roll:  Just when I was about to give up on the once-touted new film in the making about the tumultuous lives of Leitzel and Codona, Queen in the Air,  I googled up good news: Indeed, according to Deadline, as of April 12 last, the producer  “is sticking with Warner Bros. and the theme” It's the WB name that fuels my enthusiasm   Dream along with me for an epic set starring the  mammoth six-pole Ringling-Barnum  big top of the 1920s. Take a look up there ... Can ... you ... imagine? ..

 When elephants flew: Disney is remaking its celebrated 1941 animation,  Dumbo. This will be a live action, directed by Tim Burton.  Due out March 29.   Wonder if Dumbo will fly?  Hard to tell by the charming tease.  There are images of a real baby elephant.   Dumbo airborne is likely to be a puppet or robot.  Regards to which, people in high tech places are talking up robotic acrobats, jugglers and peanut vendors (I added the vendors)  soon to be stiff-executing your way.  I just can’t wait.  No, I CAN wait. 

In the meantime, back here in real time:  CBS Sunday Morning did a sweet little segment on Kevin Venardos, he once of Ringling red with whistle, then for a time a “homeless ringmaster.”   He’s now fronting his own one man,  one very long truck show.  He sets up outdoors, acts coming and going over various dates, ringmasters them with humble joy, and seems to love seeing even a few dozen people in the seats.  His fate is a poignant sign of our trembling times, and you gotta respect Kevin's infectious dedication.  For CBS, he revealed a warm,  sincere passion for the Big top that I hadn’t felt from him when he ringmastered for Big Apple and later Vargas.  I feel for this guy and wish him grateful crowds.
SIDE SHOW STOPPERS: Sir Harry of Kingston writing up Kelly Miller in Circus Report: “It has no animals, but many great acts. It is not a circus without animals, but a circus according to Jim Judkins.”  I feel your let down, Harry. . I have argued for a few dogs, etc.  And yet, I can see the smartness in what Jim has done.  He has made it impossible for the animal rights activists to muck up the midway. They are anointing his tent for this fact alone.  I hope, assuming Jim can come home a few pennies richer,  that he will relent in time and let the dogs in the tent.  Hey, they are stealing the stage on America’s Got Talent. ...... Tim Tegge,  spinning out a persuasive review in Circus Report of  the Nellie Hanneford  Shrine show in Oklahoma city, for which he ringmastered.  I so enjoyed Tim’s deliciously detailed write-up, that it felt like the best damn circus I have been to in some time!  Oh, wait, I haven’t been to any circus in some time ... Kenneth Feld, remember him?   Broadway producer? Wondering what he is up to these post-Ringling daze,  I googled his name and was mighty impressed to find that he and wife Bonnie produced the big New York hit, Dear Evian Hansen.   Really?  When you report, you are supposed to dig, so dig I did, all the way to the Broadway database. Turns out the Feld names appear among literally dozens of other names, all  listed as “producer."  Once upon a season, there were backers, sometimes called angels. Now called "producers".

END RINGERS: Sad to see that France's long-venerated Pinder Circus sliding into bankruptcy.  It’s not as easy over there as some over there would have us believe ... The ever precarious Garden Bros. Circus  rated F by the Ohio Central Better Business Bureau.  Reason being, beyond free tickets, adults complain of having to fork over  too much money for concessions. Well, at least the show showed up before  proceeding to piss them off.  That’s a Garden bonus ....

Back to Queen of the Air:   Here is how the producers can make the film --- an imperative these daze --- PC-certified. And shut down feminist rage against women not getting stardom in a sexist circus back then.  Give cameos to a few of them who did:  Bird Millman, May Wirth, Mable Stark, Ella Bradna,Winnie Colleano,  Luicita Leers (surprised?)  I could go on....If I am asked to name the greatest stars of the golden age, I would come up with more women than men.

Oh, what glory Winnie Colleano brought to the big tops. Behold and believe:


Photos: Lillian Leitzel, May Wirth, Bird Millman, Mabel Stark
PBS -- Warner Bros. --  Disney.  Heck, we've got some heavy weights on our side, and I'm waiting to NOT be disappointed again, with regards and regrets to the P.T. Barnum who never made it to the screen.


Showbiz David's new book Prime Time Rising
rises in nine days!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Greatest Showman: How to Review a Film I Can’t Review

 Step right down! I have finally seen The Greatest Showman, and I am at a fumbling loss for words.   My mind is a scramble of clashing story lines  --- some true to life, many not, and of voices shouting – that didn’t happen!   Self-esteem and respect for all seems to be the big theme of this movie musical.  Never mind that Barnum lived over a hundred years before before the dawn of the PC Enlightment.   Perhaps the most winning song is  “This Is Me.” 

Thus, we should not be surprised by the following scene:  When  P.T. takes Tom Thumb on tour abroad and is given the chance to entertain Queen Victoria, the Queen must also accept all of Barnum’s freaks, insits the showman, arguing equal respect for even the weirdest among us  The Queen accepts.  In real life, nothing like that.  Tom Thumb made a solo appearance.  The freaks would have been back in New York holding court at Barnum’s museum.

Mostly, I feel cheated by my own nagging knowledge.  It gets in the way of what’s up there on the screen.   How I wish I knew nothing of the legendary showman   Absolutely nothing.  And then, maybe,  I could enjoy the The Greatest Showman as are its legion of raving fans -- my own kin among them --  who have have seen the film more than once, and who have made its sound track a best seller. 

These things happen,  Tinseltown to Times Square.  For example, don’t go near a recent new film out out called The Trapp family of Singers — that is, if you treasure the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.  Turns out that the the Sound of Music is mostly a  fairy tale.

Here is a scene in The Greatest Showman that  I would love to have experienced in a blissful state if ignorance: The P.T. Barnum Circus (in real life, it was called Barnum’s New York museum, NOT circus) goes up in flames  (yes, it did).  Barnum hasn’t the money to rebuild (no, he did).  So P.T.Jackman, our engaging actor playing the role with winning gusto, is inspired to speed-walk victoriously across town to salvation on a vacant lot.  Skip having to raise money for another firetrap!  Up pops a lollipop of a big top,  as bright and clean as a Disney balloon. Heart-warming transition to a higher level of showmanship — you’re right, none of it happened that way.
No, nothing like that will you find in dull, medllesome history books.  I was left feeling cheated of my fair share of tears over that triumphal climax.  And left knowing that I can’t review this film in any way approaching “objective.” So I won’t.  The less you know about P.T, the more likely you are to enjoy the musical in the movie.  Look for a run on  Broadway. 

And what, I wonder, might the Prince of Humbug himself have thought of The Greatest Showman?  I can see him, his own self-esteem elevated by Hollywood,  smiling down upon an ambitiously clever cinematic illusion with a rare twinkle in his scheming eye.

“Job well done, gentlemen. – Jumbo of a humbug!”

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Deminse of Ringling Bros by Terri Silver ... Rare In-depth Analysis of the Greatest Betrayal on Earth ...

It's a very long and thoughtful piece in Hobby Lark, but you may find it of interest.  Terri Silver gave much though to the suddenly inexplicable closing of the Greatest Show on Earth.  Here's your link:


A sample I especially like:

"Out Of This World could have been part of the Feld Entertainment presentations that they currently have in their stable. The problem was, in my opinion, that they put the Ringling brand on it -- that was a huge mistake. As good as elements of this show were, the entire production was not what people want to hold onto as "circus." Sure, not having elephants kept some people away but that is exactly the reason to make the rest of the show a more traditional draw."

Amen!  I wish I could have said it as well as she does.  In fact, I had imagined the ideal first no-elephant edition being a return to a more down-to-earth Ringling circus (irony not intended).