Sunday, December 30, 2018

Circus in the Year 1, AR (after Ringling): Wild Animal Acts Banned in New Jersey ... Big Apple Circus Panned for Lacking "Heart and Story Telling" ... What Next — House Arrest for Hazardous Hula Hopping? Check Your Sanity at the Marquee ..

Were I sill penning articles on circus for Variety’s annual anniversary issue – a long-gone tradition –  what a ball I would have on this one, though in a form much different from what follows.

Canine charisma at the Big Apple Circus.
    FEELING LITTLE DESIRE to post an end-of-the-year looking back piece —  what is there to look back upon over a landscape as baron as Germany after the war?  Without Ringling and without Cole,  that’s how it feels to me.  And so, I came close to  not posting at all, but then by luck, I stumbled onto a remarkably contrary review by April Stamm in Broadway Blog of the new  Big Apple Circus. I had a hook in.  Ms. Stamm stakes out her position thus:

   “IN THE MIDST OF ALL the trapeze, acrobatic, and clowning fever [in Manhattan] you’d think that an actual circus in its 41st performing year would at the pinnacle of the trend.”  She found this not to be the case, describing the Big Apple acts as executing cleanly but lacking  “an apparent degree of difficulty ... The juggling came out without a hitch but wasn’t gasp worthy.”  Most of all, what she found missing was “heart and storytelling.” She talks up acts in the more experimental troupes that  “craft not only a well-told story, but also explore emotions and relationships."
   OH, GOOD GRIEF!  They are now in our faces -- fringe circus advocates no longer hoping for but now nearly demanding equal time for theatre. That word equal. I have seen plenty of legit critics disparaging artsy allusions to narrative by Cirque du Soleil and others of its ilk.  Virtually none of them took story telling to task other than to wish it wasn’t there.

 Solid thrills from the returning Tunizianis.

    HOWEVER, WHEN STAMM points to groups like 7 Fingers as examples of pushing boundaries,  I can and have to appreciate her point of reference —  a little.  In fact, at the last visit I paid to 7 Fingers, I was swept away by at least two absolutely terrific acts on the bill, one from Alexandra Royer on pole vaulting (I’d never seen anything like it); the other, Ugo Dario and Maxim Laurin deftly working off  a single teeterboard.  Both flat out thrilling.  If only there had been more of this, and a lot less of the humanizing angle.  Really, I don’t care to know what a juggler has for breakfast.

    HOLDING THE VERY opposite view of the Big Apple Circus is Michale Sommers of The New York Stage, writing, “This seasons’ theme-free program wastes no time on presenting extraneous fiddle-faddle and simply gets on with the show ...keenly talented artists.”

   WITH A SHARP EYE for nuance, Alexis Soloski of The New York Times clearly enjoyed this year’s show more than she did last year’s.  Even then, her notice leaks  telling qualms that give some credence to Ms. Shamm’s own regrets.  The show, wrote smith, is  “high flying, but also more low key ..... The marquee acts are fewer.” The horizontal juggling: “visually ravishing  --- but unastounding.” Upright ladders: “astounding discipline, but isn’t much to look at until he adds a soccer ball.”  Curiously, Ms. Soloski believes  that the public expects flying trapeze acts to perform without safety nets, which they never do.  She writes,  " I’ve always found the alternative too stressful."  Indeed!

Failing to impress:  New ringmaster Stephanie Monseu

    OVERALL, THE IMPRESSION  I glean from various reviews is that Jenny Vidbel’s potbellied pig is the star, clowning is weak, new ringmaster Stephanie Monseu, with little to do, is rendered ineffectual, and most of the acts are moderately entertaining, with a few thrills on the side. And Grandma is still missed.
    COCKTAILS AND COTTON CANDY: The revamped Big Apple Circus website, in gorgeous yellow, opens, not with a tease of those acts, but  with snazzy videos of customers meeting the cast in a cool-looking VIP Tent, and dining at cozy tables.  Booze is now on the bill.. Streaming excerpts from reviews draw on last year’s as well as, shamefully, still including bogus excerpts from a Wall Street Journal review that never was. The ruthless fabrication quotes from a pre-opening Journal story last year quoting BAC describing its own show!   Astonishing. 
Above, the Journal story on October 26, 2017, interviewing Big Apple Circus on its new show, three days ahead of the opening.   Notice "Big Apple Circus says ..."

Below, the quotes as turned into a bogus Journal review of the show, on its website.

    HOW CORRUPT to the core might this new Apple be? Another matter emboldening my question is a lawsuit alleging breech of contract against new Big Apple Circus owners, Compass Partners, filed by Larry and Rita Solheim.  As reported October 15 in the New York Law Journal, the Solheim’s claim they were instrumental in persuading the old Big Circus board to sell to Compass.  The new group promised the Solheim’s key executive positions on the show (Solehim had been VP and general manager of BAC since 2015), but they were gradually pushed aside, and then fired.   I’ll have more on this ahead.

A RESPECTED NEWSPAPER allowing its reporting to be so corrupted?  Kids, let me lay it out plain as A B C:   Look up there ---The Big Apple Circus is conning the public into believing that the Wall Street Journal filed a rave review of the show.  Not just last year, but this year, too.  I have never witnessed such fraudulent advertising.  I doubt that even P.T. Barnum would have stooped this low.  But as for the Journal apparently condoning itThat's the bigger story. 

    END RINGERS: The other significant milestone in 2018 is New Jersey being the first state to ban all wild animal acts, and were any of us not ready for that? ...  Paul Binder, now hanging out on Facebook, but going circusless, seems to be banning himself from posting anything about the circus he founded – or any others --and I can only wonder why Paul is so mum, and stay mum myself ... Another inactive impresario,  Guy Laliberte, maybe angling for a way way back into artistic control of  the Cirque du Soleil he co-founded and brilliantly developed, telling  The Canadian Press he is always always involved in "creative thinking" within the company ... And yet another retired big top tycoon, Kenneth Feld, riding high on his new Monster Jam roller coaster, pitching it to theme parks.

   BINDER, FELD, LALIBERTE: What if, just what if, all three of them were to suddenly spring back into action?    Can      you     imagine?


Thursday, December 13, 2018

In Other Rings: Channeling Bette Davis in Song and Dance

 A narrow face in the crowd: My fifteen minutes in the movies

I'm writing a musical inspired by the making of the Bette Davis movie, Storm Center.

Opening scene finds the cast at Union Station, L.A. about to board a train for Santa Rosa, where the film will be shot.

Bette Davis, high on getting another role during a difficult time in career, is talking it up to Hedda Hopper, and Hopper asks her to share her philosophy of acting.

To answer the question for Bette in a lyric,  I googled up many of her quotes.  One of them in particular shows marked enthusiasm, and I worked it into a line.  Guess which line?

This much is clear:
They're gonna get me
I go for broke in every role
Goddess or tramp,
I'm bigger than life --
That's my goal

I think it's pretty obvious.  In Santa Rosa, when they shot scenes at and around the library, I was lucky to be there one night as an extra in an exterior crowd scene. So was my Mom.  I could not remember ever seeing the film when it came out -- critically dismissed, it suffered a quiet and short-lived  fate.  When I finally got a copy of  Storm Center off  TCM I slow-forwarded through the scene many times, and finally found my mug in the crowd!

My most memorable moment observing Bette Davis was one quiet afternoon along Fourth Street.   I noticed a black Cadillac purring slowly up the street, towards the library.  In the back seat sat the aging diva, perfectly composed, eyes straight ahead, as if  on her way to an opening at Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood amidst idolizing crowds.

Except, on that  afternoon, the only person looking at the figure in the back seat was me.

Bigger than life!

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Morning Midway: Circus Bella Looks Teeerrrific in You Tube Tease ...

Just when I thought life support for big tops does not inspire, I discovered A CAPTIVATING You Tube sampler of action under Circus Bella's first little, very classy big top on Treasure Island. Heck, if it was not so damn difficult to get over there --- a bus from Oakland to San Francisco,  another bus  back in reverse to the enchanted Island -- I might go.  I know I'd sooner go to Bella than to Cirque's Volta.

This floating island (that's how it feels to me) hosted the San Francisco World's Fair of 1939, many seasons later, Circus Vargas.  Some non-circus friends and I went over there and saw a good Vargas show.  And during intermission, the three of us (all, technically speaking, adults) took the elephant ride!  (OK, there was a romantic element to it.)

The Bella sampler (2:25 min), colossal caveat here, is of course selective, but I did not expect to see them expand and blossom into something so much more than what they were.  And it pulled me into its fast-moving magic much more than did Big Apple Circus's video tease last year.

The snappy Bella band is a friendly charmer. LIVE music.

The small though bright tent bears the stately shapes of modern styling.  And, inside, I saw a good crowd of people in the seats.

My only ominous wonderment:  How they can pull in crowds on such steep prices --- $39.00 to  150.00

Go, Bella, go!