Tuesday, June 30, 2020

MIIDWAY FLASH! ... Cirque du Soleil Cuts 3,500 Jobs, Goes Bankrupt ...

Though not unexpected, the news is bloody: The Montreal Monster, nearly $1 billion in debt, is cutting 3,500 jobs and filing for bankruptcy protection.

From CNN business, via Covington Connected:  The “immense disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic” is blamed for the action. Actually, it may serve better as an excuse for incredibly stupid over-expansion for too many years.

They are trying to restructure their debts with assistance from the Canadian government and private equity firms.  The movie is seen as a necessary "starting point in an auction to draw other bidders.”

No where is mention made of Canadian billionaire Guy Liberate, founder and recent figure wanting to get back into the mix and take charge.  If he really does, how many of his own Big Bucks (net worth, $1.8 billion) might he be willing to throw in as a show of good faith?

Don't hold your breath.
Actually, it was Laliberte himself who engineered the early creation of multiple units, many of which went no where.  And the going nowhere should have given them reason to pause and pull back over the last 10 years, but they could not stop themselves, and are now stuck in a big black hole of their own making.

Friday, June 26, 2020

On Making a Musical: What Did P.T. Barnum Think of the Ringling Brothers, and When?

They stood for two very different kinds of showmanship. The one, for grandiose illusions; the others, for authentic artistry and honest dealing.

On  March 28, 1884 at the Jersey City docks, an anxious press of newsmen gathered in the hold of the ship, Lydian Monarch, to witness the unveiling of a “sacred white” elephant – so claimed its captivating presenter,  P.T. Barnum.  Toung Laloung, “Gem of the Sky,” had been “wrenched” from King Thibaw of Siam by the world’s most famous showman. Only three years before, he and James A. Bailey had joined forces to introduce the first three-ring circus in the world.

The ship bearing Barnum's coup had sailed through the Suez Canal,  first stopping for several weeks in Liverpool, England, where thousands flocked to the London Zoological Gardens to gaze at and ponder the authenticity of Toung Laloung.   His celebrated arrival earned an extra supplement to the Illustrated London News.  Two months later in America, now Barnum’s latest trick faced the more skeptical eyes of the  New York Press, which enjoyed a love-hate relationship with his infamous New York museum of oddities and exotics, freaks and fakes.

“The Sacred Beast Is Here,’ headlined The New York Times the following day, quoting a less than boastful Barnum: “Of course, we have all learned by this time that there is no such thing as a really pure white elephant.   This is a sacred animal, a technical white elephant, and as white as God makes ‘em.” 

In fact, as later remembered by press agent Dexter Fellows in his book, This Way to the Big Show, the immediate reaction of scribes was far more a yawn than a wow.  “`What they expected to see was a mastodon as white as the driven snow.”  Barnum, when pushed for his own opinion, granted, “Well, it’s whiter than I expected to find it.”  What they actually beheld — a kind of mulatto mastodon —  was  “the real thing,” wrote Fellows.  Meaning not a typical hoax from the prince of humbug.

In fact, remarkably, Toung Taloung generated lively, learned discussion in the American press over issues such as race and whiteness, skin-dying and technology.

 Toung Laloung, above, in a farming commercial
Forepaugh's Light of Asia, below

Eight days before, in Philadelphia, rival showman Adam Forepaugh had unveiled his own version, The Light of Asia.  But a sneaky reporter would expose a shameless white-wash job. The two Whites made for better ad copy than patronage.  By season’s end, following the sudden “death”of  The Light of Asia, Barnum would joke in his 1889 autobiography that Forepaugh’s painted pachyderm had not died, but “was simply un-dyed!”

Toung Laloung laid bare.  Pink spots were sacred.

From Silly to Serious

On a more sober note concerning fair dealing with the public,  two months following Toung Taloung’s New York premiere, on May 19,  five brothers from baraboo, Wisconsin, gave their first circus show under a 600-seat tent.  Destined for greatness, in six years the enterprising Ringlings were on rails, and within another three, battling the Big Boys.  They would make a name for themselves by refusing to operate a grift show.

P.T. Barnum, above. the Ringlings, below.  c. 1884.

While working on my musical, Those Ringlings, I more than once wondered what Barnum might have known and thought of the brothers.  He had the last six years of his life to follow their rise. The brothers went on rails in 1890.  Barnum died a year later.   Had he lived longer, I have wondered how he (with Bailey, of course)  might have held his own against the rising force of these five honest-dealing Wisconsin devils.  How he might have answered their bombastic ad copy blasting his show in 1895 as being run by “disgruntled, outclassed, overshadowed and overwhelmed would-be rivals.” And that was just a starter.

Audaciously one season, the brothers pitched their tents virtually across the street from the Barnum & Bailey headquarters in Bridgeport. 

By then, P.T. was long gone

It was tempting to give him at least some kind of a  cameo in my musical. I thought of some of the things herein discussed.  But then, might I risk committing the same fictions that I have accused others of doing?  Is it possible to take liberties while preserving the essential truth of a story?

Those who read my forthcoming book, Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical, due out by fall from BearManor Media, may have to judge for themselves.  I only dare  promise you that, whatever you find, it will (hopefully) fall woefully short of the full scale fabrications on parade in a movie called The Greatest Showman.  Cheers!

A primary source for this posting is the excellent essay, “Race and the White Elephant War of 1884,” by  Ross Bullen, found in The Public Domain Review:


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Big Kid Circus in Lockdown, a Sad Reflection of Big Tops Around the World ... PC Politics Collide in the Big Cage: Take This, PETA!

As finely reported by Douglas McPherson in London’s The Stage, Big Kid Circus tells a story sadly being told over and over again.  This one is particularly engaging in the human interest department.  Said the show's charming ring-mistress, Olympia Posicra,  “We can’t sit on our backsides many months and expect the performers to do triple somersaults straight away.”

25 Cuban ring wizards, signed to appear in Big Kid’s Latin-flavored Cirque de Cuba, gave all of ten shows in five weeks, plagued by disastrous weather, before arriving in Morecambe last March, there to watch the big top going up —  then suddenly being closed to the public.  The stranded Cubans were given a chance to fly home, but that option  — would they or wouldn’t they? — died when the  borders were shut.  Corona was now running the show.

Brother, can you Spare a Watt?

Virtually penniless, Big Kid Circus has relied on the kindness of strangers with legit resources to share. The local city council in Morecambe is allowing the company to hang around as long as need be, and providing free water and electricity.

Food banks are coming to their aid.  In fact, some of them came to Big Kid, having heard from police that company members were “too proud to ask.”

“There's no people like show people, they smile when they are down” —  Irving Berlin

The most prominent member of the company-in-limbo is Doreen Enos, 9l, who came to visit granddaughter Olympia and then had to stay.   She’s proving to be a great comfort to all.  This woman was once a Digger Pugh Girl touring the U.S.,  who trapezed, made magic, danced, and rode  in comedy cars.

Now Enos enjoys watching  acrobats rehearsing in the big top.   No social distancing here, for the company has been officially designated a “single household.”

McPherson writes of a party atmosphere hiding a “financial nightmare for a company stranded with no income for the foreseeable future.”  “If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry,” said Olympia, seen above.

“You may be stranded out in the cold, still you wouldn’t trade it for a pack of gold”
 —  Berlin

 Now Streaming Live

They are now offering the option of either renting or buying the current show. This I am looking forward to, assuming everything works.  Promo clips of  Cirque de Cuba offer a breezy, high-energy mix of salsa dancing and no-nonsense circus action in bright festive colors. Olympia is a cheerful asset to the party.

Noted she: “Circus has existed in Britain for more than 250 years, and we’re good at adapting.”

You sure are, and you had better be, still. After all, you are the people who literally invented circus.  Okay, everybody Over There, keep a cracking!

When Politics Collide: Back to the Future?

Above, one of Egypt's many fearless females. Below, Luba el-Helw

END RINGERS:  Clashing politics turned on their heads in Egypt: Female lion "tamers," the new rage, and may they take on PETA!  One of them, Luba el-Helw, might now wish she had not divorced her second husband, that is, assuming the show in which Luba cracks the whip, sometimes wearing leopard skin and black boots, has been ordered to close.  In a divorce court,  hubbie told the judge that she treats him “like a circus lion.”... As of March 29, when reported in The New York Times, the National Circus was falling on hard times, performing under a “shabby tent” by the Nile in Cairo, barely making ends meet on cheap tickets to school groups and hard-working families. The upscale crowd were said to prefer Cirque du Soleil type shows .... Maybe over there, but not so much over here? L.A. radio host Bill Handle, high on Vegas shows reopening, but maybe not all of them: “I’m getting a little tired of Cirque du Soleil.” ... He may be missing the grittier primal elements, speaking of which, at the pandering end of a recent film fizzle called Dumbo,  this from a voice of apology — weeping violins, please — for Disney: “We believe that no wild animal should be held in captivity.”  But fake elephants are okay? ... From my mask to yours,  that’s a  sheltered wrap ...

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Showbiz David's Ringling Musical to be Published ...

Pleased to announce that I have signed with BearManor Media for the publication of:

Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical.

More later!