Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Morning Midway: Looking to TV for the Next Greatest Show on Earth?

Not sure when the Super Duper Bowl comes on TV, since I do not follow the sport, might be tonight?

I know that after it is over, CBS has been teasing interest in a global, reality show kind of competition that follows, with dazzling advance clips of acts, mostly circus acts,  and claims that this program will bring viewers the very best to be found round the world.

Might be. Might not be. Does look awesomely promising.  Gradually, television is filling up a void vacated by the dreary and depressing demise of mainstream U.S. big tops.

That rather ignorant recent PBS Circus Doc claimed that television in the '50s killed the circus. No, it did not.

But now, the same medium may be helping to bring it back, long as they keep the action raw and real -- as opposed to precious and pretentious.  

I will be waiting to see.

And you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Morning Midway: Unicycle Wiz Wesley Williams Makes It Big as Jeopardy Question

Last night on Jeopardy, Alex Trebeck posed: He rides a 20-foot high unicycle.  Nobody's board lit up. Silence. Alex spoke: Wesley Williams. And I lit up, proud, awed and happy for the kid.  American made.  I saw him dazzle a crowd on the Gong Show last season.  He's the real thing.

TV is proving to be a great presenter -- and respecter -- of circus action (notice how I avoided "circus arts").  Some of the better and even best acts out there are now wowing in prime time.

Go, Wesley, go!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Morning Midway: I Went to Ringling Bros. Circus Last Night, When Merle Evans Road the Band

Latest big top icon to fall: Circus Report, come December.

In this  bleak landscape closing in on us, last night, I went to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and, oh what a show!  Twas an old TV preview of the 1961 edition, with Arthur Godrey and horse hosting.  Merle Evans came back that year, and how wonderful the band played.  It did not always play that uniformly well under the big tents, but in the arenas, in cities where he hired out local musicians, the sound overall was superior.

Gerald Soules flew to the band playing Cole Porter's torrid "So In Love," and I felt the chill ahead, knowing I would be witnessing  the single most thrilling moment I have ever braced  at a circus -- Soules' diving forward into a heal catch.  Powerful, direct, vividly accomplished, daring as hell.

Evans played one of John Ringling North's better melodies, from an old spec, and he played lots of terrific music. Solid. Smooth. Remember when we watched acts perform to the great American songbook?

The Stephenson's Dogs.  You might argue there are better dog acts, maybe more tricks, but what that  family did with their mutts, and the way they kept the party in exhilarating motion  I'd rank them Number One.  Yes, I would.

And the audience!  An arena in North Carolina, filled, engaged, taking it all in without hesitation.. This was our greatest show on earth.  This was before the protests began, back when America was  , not so complicated a place. Remember the telegram boy at the door?   The phonograph player?  The three TV channels we had to choose from?

The Ringling program presented  32 displays, in total, about 37 acts not counting clown bits.  Most of them, like Unus and Alzana,  did not make the one hour special.  Loved Santos on low wire, Klausers Bears, stupendously adroit, the Yong Brothers. .  

No wonder the show back then was so DAMMED INTERESTING. All that variety, the action, which they had to move through fastly to get everything in. I always at Ringling never looked at the listing of acts in the program magazine, wanting to be surprised.  The battleship for Anchors Away aerial ballet evoked a nostalgic tingle.  I remembered it that from when I would see the show crowded gloriously into the  more intimate Oakland Auditorium, seating maybe 7,000. The perfect size.

When Maestro Evans rode the band onto and through "Sing Hallelujah," oh what a high they put me on. I was back under the tent in 1955. 

Now, in its fifth year indoors, the show was coming into its own once again.  Art Concello, firmly in command, was the primal force.

And there it stays, on a book shelf here in my living room.

I was struck by how different is the mood and tempo of a circus show today, with far fewer acts, and some of them , contortion a good example, so serious and slow-moving.  The rollick is gone.  Things have turned so deadly serious.  That's right, these performers have heavy themes to impart.  They are much more than circus, plead the academics.  And they are also at times much less.  I will be kind and not name names. 

I  can't see Ringling in the flesh anymore. But I can see it whenever I want to pop the DVD into my Sony.

Oh Hallelujah!