Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What the Circus Can Teach Broadway, Oh Really?

Updated: 6.20.24

Yes, an odd question -- in the form of a headline rolling down the  Covington chute a while back.  Questioned was posed in a Theater Mania interview with the show’s director, Jessica Stone.  So, have we here a big hit, I wondered.  So big that others may want to learn from it?  Even, dare I say, imitate it?   

The very assertion in the headline -- Jessica Stone on what the circus can teach Broadway ---  may have raised hackles among Broadway pros,  taken aback by the gall in its being raised.  Upon closer examination, seems the question was launched by the article’s writer, Zachary Stewart, in his asking Stone,  "What is something that you’ve learned a tremendous deal about in this process?"  Here’s the best I can extract from Stone’s underwhelming reply:
 “I’ve learned so much about rigging. .... You need to know that the person holding their arms out is going to catch you, and that can only be built through play, community , and trust.  That’s something I will always take with me.”
How to rig?  How to be sure you know your partner well enough to trust them?

But can Water teach Broadway how to compose better scores?  Better choreography?  Better scripting?

There is a fundamental difference between circus and theater. The one is mainly all about acrobatics and the daring-do of performers.  The other, about the human condition. And they don’t easily mix in equal measure.   The hit musical Barnum dwelled more in the human, with a socko score and a good enough story. Nobody talked up its token acts. If fact, I can’t remember any other than Jim Dale as Barnum walking a low wire.  Water’s acclaimed circus artistry -- cited by some as the reason to go -- may only add to the impression of a feeble story flailing about between – not songs, but  acts.

In fact, with the possible exception of Billy Rose's Jumbo, this may be the first musical to share the stage with top-line circus acts -- assuming  that they are that good.

Now with not a single Tony to its name, can Water for Elephants yet bring off a dark-horse victory and prove its haters wrong – half the notices were scathing.  Or will it’s luster fade away with the passing of another Tony Season?.  Something about the good notices it did draw (a critics pick from the Times) and glowing customer gush (possibly shilled) gives me a feeling it just might surprise them all.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.  In Theatre Mania's most recent weekly box office report, some shows played to 90% or more capacity.  Water was not one on them. 

Next on Midway Times Square?   Disney has been workshopping a musical based on the Hugh Jackman movie, The Greatest Showman. They might have better luck. The movie has a score that dazzles, especially younger ears, and circus performing is incidental.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Following Those Ringlings Forever ... and Ever ... Can Become an Addiction ...

Hey, did you see over there on Buckles Blog that photo of the five ticket wagons on the Ringling-Barnum midway in 1955? And, by the way, John Ringling North II is now in Hugo active in production plans for Kelly-Miller’s next season. JRN The Second, I hereby declare, is no longer a first of may. He is now a fully matriculating apprentice tycoon.

Give ‘em Ringling, and they’ll come. Give ‘em Al or John, even Otto, and their ears perk up. Give it to ‘em plain or fancy, fanciful or factual. Fans (and I plead guilty) have an insatiable appetite for all things Ringling ... Read on, you hopeless insatiables ...

Jack Hunter, a card carrying JRN buff, e-mails me “I have started reading your new book for the second time.” That would be Fall of the Big Top, and thanks, Jack, for the compliment (my check is in the mail), and while Ringalinging on, Jack raises a fascinating idea (not raised before to my knowledge), that the life of John Ringling North (the original) might make a fine movie. Jack can see Clint Eastwood's production company tackling the story ... Hollywood writers, on strike, how about it? ... My mind went into Ringling overdrive, and here I am, blogging out another Ringling post: I can see shades of the Great Gatsby in the suave though sedate playboy image that North gave off. Shades of even North himself. He trouped through so much drama: Gets circus back into family hands, ballyhoos Gargantua the Great and creates a three-ring ballet for elephants. . Five fabulous years later, gets kicked out by envious relatives so cousin Robert, his opera career on the skids, can happen .... Hartford happens. Hoffa happens. And Pittsburgh soon happens, bringing on the saddest day in American circus history when, were was the man who struck the big top for the last time? Cooped up in his private car, the Jomar.

...Hold on, Art Concello groupies. Yes, your crusty idol, who was adored (I believe) by Johnny North, who helped him regain control of the circus in '47, who gave us those marvelous seat wagons and who brought sanity to the unpredictably eclectic North vision, will co-star. And what a pair! One, aloof, serenely hands off; the other, cigar-chomping Man of the Midway ...

“JRN was truly a great and complex man,” notes Hunter. Complex, deceptive or actual, I agree. Got me thinking again, as I have pondered before, what made him so mysterious is that since he was not your compulsive hands-on producer, we are left forever to speculate on just how he influenced those who worked for him. We only know what a profound impact he had ... “There will never be another like him,” says Jack. Now that is the true mark, is it not, of a remarkable figure?

Ringlings yesterday, today, and now, tomorrow. John Ringling North II has proved many promising Ringling things his first season out. For one, he is no Richard Ringling, son of Alf T. who went out with a show not tilted Ringling, as did JRN II, but did not last a single season... JRN II toured Kelly-Miller from spring to fall, and he is back in Hugo, still in charge, engaged in production talks for ‘08. Repeat: ‘08. And what sort of a Ringling is he? ALL of the five founding Ringling bothers were so different. In JRN II, I do not see John Ringling. Do not see Alf T., who surely would have had a much more aggressive website up and running by now. Look here, Kids. I see shades of two Ringlings in JRN II, who, according to reports, is now revealing perhaps a more active hand in the creation of the show itself, but who also last season displayed a warm friendly compassion for his staff. So I see a little bit of Otto — careful with the books — and maybe a lot of Charles, loved by everyone and the Ringling who took a keen interest in the creation of the circus itself.

By the way, Bank of Howard Tibbals: Instead of restoring ten more tableaux wagons, how about building just one Concello seat wagon, since not a one of them survives? And Baraboo, please: Instead of a thousand Sells-Floto cookhouse menus, I'll gladly take that one rare handwritten note JRN scribbled out up at his Waldorf Astoria suite shortly after opening night, '51, bluntly expressing his reaction to the show and advocating some changes. Okay, men in white, shackle me up and haul me off to the Ringling nuthouse for Ringlingholics Anonymous. But through the pa system, might you play a tape recording of Merle Evans and band blaring out the 1951 score?

[photos, John Ringling North, above, likely by Ted Sato; Arthur M. Concello and Cecil B. De Mille; John Ringling North II, by Beverly Royal]

First posted 1.27.08

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Chapter Titles For My New Book Revealed

 Coming from BearManor Media on July 4th


Not Born in a Trunk

On Stage in an Orange Crate 

The Sink in My Salad 

Antenna Acrobat to Cash Man at the People’s Window 
Be A Clown, Be a Sledgehammer 

Furniture, Dogs, and the Moon on Credit 

Broadway Bound at College 

Park Avenue Calls

Why, You Don’t Look Like a Circus Press Agent to Me!  

No, I Don’t Give Private Lessons for Roller Derby 
Pitching Elephants to ABC from a Payphone
Cast and Framed for Restroom Duty 

Clerking for Egg Heads and Hard Hats 

 File Me Out of This Flop 

 Hollywood Takes on Ringling

Dream Boss from Central Casting 
 Just Another Day in Quake City 
 Law Land Follies  

Still Merrily Stranded Out of Town

Curtains Rise, Curtains Fall

Sunday, May 26, 2024

A True Trapeze Queen Shamefully Ignored By History


 Update, 5/28

Our winner had checked in!  He posted under The Magic Guys, but somehow, his full message did not come through.  His answers was:

Latvian aerialist Lena Jourdan, of the Flying Jordans

Congrats, Magic Guys!

End of update. 

Still ignored by writers and historians who should know better: Lena Jordan, not Ernest Clarke, was the first flyer to turn a triple somersault on the trapeze.  Most sources place the feat on Jordan Bros. Circus in Australia, 1897. But according to the Guinness Book of Records, Jordan actually turned the first triple in New York city with the Flying Jordans, an American troupe, in 1896, at Koster & Bial's Theatre 

Not so fast, says Wikipedia, claiming that the New York record has not been officially recognized. Rather,  In May 1897, Jordan, aged 16, "became the first recorded person to perform a triple somersault during a routine in Sydney, Australia."

The Circus Ring of Fame in Sarasota propounded the myth by ignoring  Jordan altogether, in order to give  Antoinette Concello credit for first female to turn the triple. 

How does the Circus Historical Society check in on this?  I once followed a thread on their history message board, all the way to a contributor who confirmed that, indeed, the honor goes to Jordan. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

SUNDAY MORNING NOW, IMMERSIVELY YOURS: Tornadoes Topple Tops ... Daring Dames Dare Globes of Death ... Garden Goes Nuclear, Vegas Goes Artsy ...

     OLD CAN BE NEW AGAIN: Take a tent fainting under nature’s wrath, and you may have a tour suddenly gone down with a vengeance. That would be our visiting tenter from Germany, Great Bavarian Circus, whose big top got hammered to shreds by a tornado thundering across the East Coast.  Sad sight, the party over almost before it began. They came here to share, and they have my deepest sympathy. 

     ANOTHER TENT IN SHAMBLES is Florida State University’s Flying High Circus. “It was jarring to see it all go down in that manner,” told director Chas Mathes to the Tallahassee Democrat. Not just one, or two, but three EF-2 tornados. Back to Italy goes FSU, needing a replacement top from the land that created (or did they?) those fantastically shaped modern day Scheherazade tents.  Maybe the passionate Italians will give FSU a courtesy discount.  Fly on and Higher, Flying High! 

     TUNE UP YOUR GIRLY GRIT, Brit gals!  Crcuses are looking for you.  It’s happening across the Big Pond, reports our London informant on the go, Douglas McPherson, in The Stage. He profiles the founder of Ireland’s Daring Dames Festival, Dea Birkett.  Now in its third year, her show  fosters an All-Female Cast. While, over at Big Kid Circus (love that name), they’re touting  “Europe's first all-female Globe of Death motorcycle riders,”  the Kirilova Sisters trio.  And just when I was hoping this monster bore of a stunt would blast its way into infinity’s graveyard.  Here’s what I’d relish: Put a pair of high-stepping distaff daredevils teasing trouble on the double wheel.  How’s that for a ballyhoo?     

     DAMES ON FLAMES: These equity-pandering innovators are said to be aimed at challenging gender stereotypes in the ring.  Okay, I’m usually ill at ease with such a hollow premise, except that here, McPherson quotes strong woman, Aoife Raleigh,  knocking down a shamefully biased account peddled for years by hard core feminists headquartered in San Francisco:  “There’s always been a space in the circus where women can be physical.” 

       RECALLING THE ROLE of women in big tops,  Douglas spins magic describing Patty Asltey, wife of modern day circus founder,  Philip, riding on horseback around the ring “with her hands gloved in a swarm of living bees!”

     THEY'VE WALKED HIGH WIRES for years, swung free and high, posed on pachyderms, danced over horses.  For years.  Except that ... Except that what? Well, for starters, did they ever climb the Chinese poles or –  LOVE this one – serve as CATCHER on the flying trapeze?  Those are among the skills our new-line big top disputers are aiming to take on ....  It’s a novelty sure to tickle a jaded public that may be restless for something beyond the current, increasingly predictable staples.

The gang was all there: Kiyome Hara, Chester Cable, Michelle Wiertalla, Wini McKay, Alex Smith, and Betty Smith.

      GOING NUCLEAR AT GARDEN BROS., as reported by a tickled Alex Smith, sounds like a rousing good party  in a semi-brawling concession pit. That is, a little messy and rowdy and more like old  Barnum than new Cirque. Says our man on the lot:  “They’re not PC including a dog act, World’s smallest man ... and they're full of acts I'm unfamiliar with." Now, that I like -- a lot.  "I can tell you already it’s noisy with vendors and uncontrolled audience, but then I guess it is NUCLEAR” Brilliant deduction, Alex!  For the first time, I actually have a yen to take in this easy-to-knock enterprise.

     THERE'S A RESTLESS PUBLIC out there that wants circus, but wants it against safe and stale formats.  Wants a little more, dare I see, gruff and wild? Claims Alex, “They packed them in a straw house,”and that ads up to  2,185 people.  If you dig deeper into the Yelp two-star average reviews, you may find reason to go see for yourself.  Even in a mess, sometimes you can spot genuine quality.


       MAKING CIRCUS ART IN SIN CITY -- MAYBE:  Vegas to host the first International Circus Festival, slated for Nov. 1 - 10, organized by trapeze flyer Renato Fernandes,  seen above, who enjoys credit for the first in history to turn a Double Twisting Layout and Half.  Far from the rowdy Garden party, Renato is burning to produce a  “new spectacle that transcends borders, celebrates diversity, and enriches communities”  Somebody please give me a  break!  Hasn’t circus been naturally doing this for centuries?  

      BUT GOING DEEPER  into the website, this I nearly missed: This project will only be funded if it reaches its [funding] goal by Wed, June 12 2024 12:00 PM PDT

      ONTO THE MORE CONCRETE "IMMERSIVE," the latest new word, which Renato drops and which the Felds started floating on their last show that dared call itself a circus — the one that came crashing down in 2017.  Back at it without “circus” in the tile, heck, if  New Ringling really wants to maximize such all-encompassing encounters, I’d suggest putting the audience in the ring, and running the show around and over it.  And maybe into it.  Oh, what a perverse new spectacle, just in time to be rendered more chillingly harmless when robots in spangles arrive.

Know what? I am already feeling homesick for the Garden jam. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Be The First to Answer the Next Big Question, and Win a Free Copy of My New Book, Keep That Day Job!

 I will post it here at 6 pm PDT, on Sunday May 19

It may be too easy to answer, so I'd suggest you pounce the moment the posting hits.

And remember, you must give a name, either your own or a made-up one.  All answers will NOT be posted.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A Young Star Rises in a Production True to the Original, and the Real Pal Joey Lives Again

 Just ended at the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda, CA

 Stage Review: Pal Joey

The great joy and payoff in little theater (Community, if you must) is that you will discover great talents that you can easily imagine handling their parts on the boards of Broadway.  And the vast majority of them will never make it there, if even they try.

At 1409 High Street  in charming Alameda, I am, case in point,  talking about a young actor named Nico Jaochico, cast in the role of Joey Evans.  Did I see a star rising at 1409?  This guy, on the hefty side and yet remarkably light on his dancing feet, won me over with his ingratiating showmanship and powerful vocals, playing the part in a production that stays  true to the original 1940 show — how revolutionary!  
Gene Kelly originated the role in the daring-for-its time Rodgers & Hart work, and yet I’m not so sure that I would have liked Kelly more than Nico.  Okay, for dancing, yes.  But as for character?  You see, our charmer-in-chief  has a way of widening has face to practically reach all three sides of Altarena’s three quarter round audience – and sending out a sly glint of spoofery in his eyes. As if to say, let’s not take this too seriously, but kick it around a little and have some fun, okay?  Such that, I ended up rooting more for the actor than the character.  In a Pal Joey world, that’s a good thing.  

In the role, Nico as Joey begins by pitching his  borderline M.C. talents to a small south end Chicago club owner, Mike Spears, played here by Charles Evans in a manner weak on character, which gets things off on a wobbly start. But soon enough, the sparks will fly.  Joey briefly romances lovely Linda English with the score’s one tender song, I could Write a Book; and from there, advances onto Vera Simpson’s bank account. 

She, a jaded, technically married dame from upper society,  sets Joey up with his own night club, and is rewarded with his company, leaving her blissfully “bewitched, bothered, and bewildered ... horizontally speaking, he’s at his very best.” But the spell has a short expiration date. Never have I  heard the song sung so compellingly as it was  here  by the perfectly cast Maria Mikeyenko.

In Act II,  a riotously amusing mobster, essayed to the hilt by Don Kolodny, moves in to engineer a bribe. They’ll ask Vera for lots of money, and if she says no, tip off her hubby to the affair – now languishing on a stale mattress that no longer squeaks sweetly. 

Romance, finis
Your chance, finis
Those ants that invaded your pants, finis

In the end, all of these morally-challenged rascals will go their separate ways.  Funny, I felt a rare affection and sadness for them all. The party was over.  Only was virtuous Linda Evans still fostering a good feeling and face for Joey.  But he is left alone.

The score is a treasure, loaded with high energy songs that pop the champagne on aberrant sophistication.  Had there not been a Joey
would there have been a Chicago?   When  Pal Joey opened in 1940, it was remembered by Richard Rodgers for leaving the audience half raving, half in shock. "Bewitched" was banned from the airwaves for a time.  A musical that vulgar?  Yes, The critics loved it. 

Truth is, it was never close to a major hit drawing large sustaining crowds.  The original production lasted nearly a year,  the much admired 1952 revival a few months longer.  Three since then have all begged for customers, hanging on from one week to a few months.  All come to town peddling “new” scripts that only muck up an essentially naughty and uncomplicated  little romp.

How lucky I was to have seen THIS particular romp.

Credit the smartly faithful direction of Laura Morgan staying true to the original book, with rare exceptions: The song, “I’m Talkin’ to my Pal,” was cut before the show opened in New York. And Altarena dropped a song that did make it all the way to opening night. "Happy Hunting."

Any qualms? Pacing sometimes errs in drawn out and/or stagey set changes.  I was so enthralled with the expedience, I may have overlooked other flaws.

The cast fairly bubbles, with sprightly dancer Jarusha Ariel playing Gladys in the lead. Boffo!    A six piece band, with outstanding musical direction by pianist Armando Fox, excels to the finish line.  I sat there mesmerized by the raw brilliance of those witty and worldly songs.  More musicals, please, Altarena!

The only other stage Joey I can compare this one to, albeit via You Tube, was a  morose, creaky revival in 2008, enslaved in yet another lugubrious new libretto, at the Roundabout in New York. "I
n mourning for its own lifelessness," reviewed The New York Times. It clucked on for ten listless weeks. I had to force myself to sit through the gloomy affair, more  reason to cherish Altarena’s gift. The fidelity of its staging must mark  a high point in Bay Area musical theater history.

Little theater can be very big.


Monday, April 29, 2024

My New Book --- Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad -- Due Out the Fourth of July

There it is, now on its way.  Stay tuned for another mind-boggling quiz!    

I'm now going over the proofs from my publisher, Bear Manor Media, digging into the cracks between words for little bugs -- a comma missing, a period in the wrong place. Jumbled sentences. And that word I'm still not sure about. Checking out photo placements. there are 74 images in all, representing a fraction of the multitude of jobs covered. Total 50.

My last chance to revise. Now or never!

Friday, April 19, 2024

Name the Ringling Spec that celebrated nature? Have We a Winner?

 Yes, we have ...

Jim Royal!

French artist and costume designer Marcel Vertes was commissioned by John Ringling North to create the costumes for the 1956 spec, Say It With Flowers. Life Magazine did a large multi-page spread of the Vertes drawings.  They would be the last originals worn by a Ringling cast under the big top.

Less lavish than what audiences had grown accustomed to when Broadway designer Miles White created the costumes, some fans grumbled.. But to others, they marked a refreshing contrast.  Restful pastels.  Working against them were a  straggling set of floats noticeably frugal, and altogether, the overall impression left room for carping. I, for one, called it Say it With Cement, referencing one of the most embarrassingly frugal floats ever seen in any parade.  The show was going into New York on borrowed money, and Teamster union members were waiting to picket it

In the program magazine,  Vertes contributed a piece, "I Like the Circus," in which he compared working on sawdust to stage:  "I like circus people, too, because they seem to be more friendly than the people in the theatre.   They have a profound respect for the performers who do the really dangerous stunts way up there in space."

It was such a very different show in many ways -- new ringmaster, Preston Lambert, new bandleader, Izzy Cervone, who came with strings added, a score favoring the popular songs of Frank Loesser.  I've seen enticing video clips of the show, thanks to Kenny Dodd, and am taken by the costumes and original scoring for "Ringling Rock N' Roll."  It's a gas.  I would love to have seen the whole show..

 It was a full season not to be.  Come Pittsburgh, PA, and the Greatest Show on Earth gave its last performance under canvas. Thank God -- how lucky was I to have seen it the year before -- my one and only time under the greatest big tops of them all, and one of the greatest days of my life. 

Congrats, Jim!  



Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Tentless Cave to Sagging Fortunes? Catching Up, or Down, with Cirque du Soleil ...

First draft impressions.

You may have read they are closing the Beatles show, Love, in Las Vegas.  The space needed for some massive makeover (a stadium for Oakland A's baseball?) being planned, the stated reason.  Okay, maybe. Or maybe the Cirque brand is fading?  Novelty in time becomes old-school.  And all the pretentious theatrical airs and posturing surrounding it, even more difficult to take. Get on with the show! I don't know.   I lost the urge a number of years ago, fed up with the fru-fru,  pissed off by having to fork over a few dollars for an empty designer bottle,  needed to contain water out of a faucet. In its better days, there were free faucets outside the tent.  People notice these small things.

Desperation isn't pretty.

Which got me wondering, how is the Montreal Monster, which the Canadian government, its initial angel investor in the beginning,  bailed out in 2022, really doing? I have no idea.  I can only guess they are getting by.   They tried playing the indoor venue circuit years ago, which left patrons wanting. They are now crawling back to those concrete charmers. The mark of a thriving concern? 

Yelp reviews:  Once upon a time, there were many raves.  Now, there are many boos. I focused in on the S.F. Bay Area scene the last year, and found some horribly put-off notices.   I tried to copy a few to bring to your attention, but could not.  Suffice it to say, of around only five to eight in recent months, all but one are in negative territory.  Far closer to zero than to five.  Crique-du-fatigue?

All such epic achievements I suppose are bound to wither away in time. That need not be the case here, but in their apparent grope to continue dominating the market, at least in imagery, they may be diluting their product down to the leftover shelves.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Present Tense Tenuous: When Ringling Played the Garden. ... When Garden Beat Ringling on Yelp ... When Hybrid Circuses Feature Trans Dogs ... Hold Onto Your Aerial-Plane Seat!

      When the elephants paraded to Madison Square Garden in the 1950s

      SPRING IS HERE, so they say, and  I shiver as never before, wondering where  “global warming”ever went. I ask a smug wokish friend who impatiently replies, “No, it’s now climate change” But hasn’t the climate always been changing? Was there not once an Ice Age, not caused, I assume, by gas pumps on the moon?

     IN MY ADVANCED kiddiehood when the climate evidently never changed,  nothing could  match the excitement of reading about the spring arrival of  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at  Madison Square Garden. I thrillingly read in The Billboard of the  latest new wonders,  new production numbers, costumes.  John Ringling North loaded the rings with “First Time in America” imports. Grandma in Brooklyn sent me news clippings.  

Marlene Dietrich, John Ringling North, and Gloria Vanderbilt at a gala Garden opening in the 1950s'

     THEY CALLED IT The Big One, Big Bertha, The Big Show.  And some seasons they packed all 14,000 seats in the Garden on the best of days during a six-week run.                           

      FAST FORWARD to the grey sinking present: The new Ringing acrobatic show played three days across the Brooklyn Bridge at the new Barclays’ Center.  Count ‘em, THREE. And of the twenty New York critics who reviewed Water for the Elephants on Broadway, not a one of them reviewed Ringing.  Why? Has anybody out there an answer?  Has anybody out there a pulse?

     DEFERRING TO DUBIOUS showmanship,  I might Lyft it up to Vallejo (CA) when Garden Bros Nuclear Circus works the town (and would I go nuclear, too?).  Last time I can recall getting suckered into a Garden concession pit, it was Sterling and Reid at the Cow Palace. I walked out at intermission.  Canada may have given us Cirque.  It also gave us Dick Garden, whose  tent, dazzling to behold in photos, is now drawing slightly better Yelp reviews than Ringling.  No, I don’t make these things up.  What I see in video teases are streams of fairly basic though solid-appearing acts.

     AROUND MOST AMERICAN rings these timid times,  it is no longer quite the ever-changing, never-changing circus as once defined by my favorite circus writer, Earl Chapin May.  Less varied.  Less risk-taking.  Less real. AI (hate those letters) knows no limits out here in the State of Insanity.  Down in LA, they’re giving the OK to driver-less cars (as opposed to cars driven by drivers who can’t drive) I feel sorry for the Lyft drivers who share with me their fear of being replaced by chips at the wheel, and  I can hear the hurt in their voices. Are the ultimate outcomes of this obsession what we really want?  Allow me for deferring to the smartest thing I have heard from the mouth of a world leader in decades:

     “IF IT’S POSSIBLE TO USE HUMAN LABOR, do not use machines and mobilize local residents to do the jobs” — Chinese premiere Xi Jinping.

          ONTO THE FLASHING platforms of New Ringling.  Kenneth Feld might take a crack at becoming The Greatest AI produced Show on Earth.  He’s got that fake dog, and I’m wondering if he’ll  re-sign it for next season (assuming there is to be one), maybe give the mut a trans partner?  Media adoration guaranteed.  BTW; How do you “celebrate”  someone’s’ sex change unless they wear a badge revealing it?  How about, then, a retro-hertero coming out day?  Hopelessly Straight Heathens on Parade?  
     LESS AUTHENTIC EVERYWHERE.   I look for a certain safety wire attached to a certain Cirque du Soleil aerialist currently appearing in a TV ad. And then receive a relevant e-mail from Sir Douglas of McPherson, over yonder Pond,  recounting his recent interview with a Cirque performer. She told him, “In training we wear a harness. In the show, the harness is off and you just go for it!”

     HO HO, NO NO.

     ROBOT RINGMASTERS?  Robot Critics? (please, no cracks). Circuses may be going hybrid on us – part human, part other.  For kinky laughs, our new faceless clowns could spoof wild mishaps in the technologically challenged air these days --  mad airplanes fraught with runaway parts, leaving passengers stuck to the ceiling, others gasping for air, while a recorded voice says, “You may claim your soul upon check out.”

     HOW LIKE A SCENE in a nightmare sci-fi flick pitting the emerging power of AI against a human society no longer able to control it. AI scripted.   AI scored  And before that world blows itself up, let me list the star ratings for three circuses, as recently reviewed by Yelp consumers, assumed to be real.
    Zoppe Family Circus
             4-1/2 stars
 Garden Bros. Nuclear Circus.
           2 stars

The Greatest Show on Earth
         1-1/2 stars

It may end not with a bang, but a bum review.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Contest Results for Free Copy of My New Book: Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad

      Name the circus that used a jazz band to score the show

  The answer


Have we an answer? Yes, we have.  Only one person got it right, although of the others who gave it a shot,  a few came close. One answered, "Sid Kellner's James Bros Circus".  Another guessed simply "Vargas." There is merit to that last answer, for during the mid-1980s, when Circus Vargas was at its peak in performance quality,  Cliff had a  five or six piece band, richly orchestrated, that included a number more jazzy or jazz-driven compositions.  

Sid hired a real jazz band to score his 1972 show, a group of young musicians from the local Alhambra High School in Martinez, CA, the town out of which he operated. (Incidentally, I worked publicity for a few of the Chicago dates.)  This came as a total surprise to me, and by accident.  I was googling to verify that Sid had headed up a B24 bomber fighter crew during WWII, and came upon a Facebook with a photo of the musicians in front of the bus, especially equipped to serve as their sleeper during the tour.  The image is so dark, I have left it up to my publisher to decide whether it should be included in the book. .

So, who got the answer right? Drum roll, please!  Colin Carter

Congratulations, Colin!  Send me your address by e-mail. The book is now in production, and I'm guessing it will be out in summer or early fall.




           There he is, the one and only Sid: top row, second from left.      

Thursday, March 28, 2024


Next Tuesday, April 2, NOON PDT, I will announce the results of my contest for a free copy of my forthcoming book,  Keep That Day Job!  How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad

There is still time to enter!   

The question:  Name the  American Circus that used a jazz band to play for its show?

You still have until midnight, April 1, to participate.  Your answers will NOT be posted here.

If you do not wish to reveal your name, use a unique nickname. 

Due Soon After:  The Next Big Question

This one for Ringlingphiles 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Circus and Broadway: Rarely Do They Click ...New Musical, Water for Elephants, Faces Troubling Reception

The reviews are out, and they're wildly mixed.  Show has New York Times and The Daily News (Chris Jones) cheering -- against jeering of other heavyweights like: USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and Rex Reid at The Observer

On the fence are The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly

The movie, of which I am no fan, rates 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.  

In recent years, Cirque du Soleil's efforts to conquer the Great White Way were met with spectacular failure. Another show that flew high on circus rigging, and then slowly crash landed, was Spiderman.

The one notable exception is Barnum, a big rousing hit with a fail-safe score from Cy Coleman.  Show enjoyed a three year run. Unlike Water, I don't recall circus acts coming even close to stealing the show.

The smash Hugh Jackman movie, The Greatest Showman, would seem to have been a good bet to beat the odds, and as I recall, they tried taking it on the road as a prospective Broadway musical.  In fact, the show is still actively in the works at Disney, said to be eyeing a possible Broadway premiere in 2024.

 By and large, The Great White Way does not seem to be a good fit. Circus and theater are two very different animals.  Billy Rose's Jumbo in the 1930s at the 5,000 seat Hippodrome gave New Yorkers the tale of a circus on the edge of insolvency. The show  included real circus acts, and was, best of all, graced with wonderful Rodgers and Hart songs, among them,  The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, My Romance, and Little Girl Blue. John Murray Anderson, who would years later direct Ringling Bros. Circus, directed the 233 performance run of Jumbo, a respectable number for the day (Babes in Arms ran for 289 performances).  But Rose's exorbitant expenses spelled an early end.

As for today, my best guess is this: When the average tourist or family goes to New York, they are not going there to see circus.  And if there is one redeeming attribute in Water, from fast scanning the reviews, it appears to be, ironically,  the acrobats!

But you never know. Wicked got scathing reviews and is  still running. Hair was panned by all the critics but Hair had a gimmick: Nudity.  What has Water?

Broadway does not feel like a destination for circus going.

I'll take Big Apple Circus at Cunningham Park in Queens, any day.

P.S. Including reviews from unfamiliar sources that I did not include, there were a total of 19. And none of them took a look at the new Ringing? 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Wall Street Journal Walks Water for the Felds at their New "Better Smelling" Greatest Show on Earth ...

Those cunning Felds  have managed to  bring off another non-circus review of the show that may feel to some like a review.  Credit a mutual love fest between the Felds and the The Wall Street Journal's Ben Cohen.

Though he rarely contributes a review-like statement, Cohen is implicitly high on the product.

You will learn, a surprise to Cohen, that Ringling's re-invention is perfectly in step with precedent. To learn this, he consulted with Matthew Wittman, curator of the Harvard Theater Collection to learn "something about circus I wasn't expecting to hear:  'Historically, the circus has involved a lot of innovation."

Writes Cohen:  "The key to Ringling's comeback is not just that it is more humane.  The Circus is now more human."

And, oh, how much lovelier to the senses: "their workplace smells better."

Give them credit for pressing Feld on the bottom line: "The privately held company declined to provide financial information about the tour, although Feld says he's pleased with ticket sales."

The story lends the impression of a show venturing into far off places to find talent.  For this revelation, quoted is J. Vaught, senior vice president of production and touring operations: "You have to look in places where people haven't looked."

They've been doing that for years.

I have to wonder why Cohen did not note the absence of the word "circus" in the show's legendary title, a word he frequently drops, and ask why?

Oh, of course, might have spoiled the feel-good tribute.

Thanks to Don Covington for the link.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Back on the Ringling Watch: Show Packs Barclays Center, Says One in the Know -- Average Rating on on Yelp, Updated: 1-1/2 Stars ...

UPDATE:  Don Covington sent me the New York Times article on the new Ringling.  Turns out, it was not a review, but a feature about how the new show came to be.  Why the Times will not review is very puzzling.  Thank you, Don!


Fastly trying to catch up, having heard the show "strawed 'em" over a three day stand in Barclays, once again I set out on the review trails to see what I could find. About the same as before.   Show did pull, at last, what appears to be a real newspaper review, from the Orlando Sentinel, and a good one, from what I could see before being blocked by the "sign up" gate.   And I find a review on March 2 in the New York Times, but I can't read it, nor is there mention of it on the Ringling website.

Here, totally copied and pasted,  is a string of reviews on Yelp. Some I may have already posted.

Start Yelping, America!

Not just missing the Animals and the Clowns but the voice of the Ringmaster ???? Couldn’t see the screens and lights blocked many views! Not four our 3.1/2 yr old grandson…. He was asking where’s the clowns and elephants??? Why not include some animatronics ? Just sad and expensive

2.0 star rating Anonymous from Houston, Texas


I was thinking Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the circus of all circuses. I was wrong. Arabia Shrine Circus was much bigger, had more and just seemed overall better, and it's a quarter of the price. I won't go to another Ringling Bros again.

1.0 star rating Merlotsmom from Bossier city La


All we saw was acrobats swinging back and forth, the worst CLOWN show ever, and a fake robot dog. I wish I had my money back. The tickets were not worth the price we paid and the show was a pathetic two ring mess. Our Shriners circus is way better!

1.0 star rating Jere from Chicago, Illinois


False advertisement. Not a circus at all, more musical than anything. Total disgrace, all it was were acrobatics and dancers with lil talent. Clowns was horrible no tricks or shocking entertainment. The host(main speaker) was lip singing, sounded like it was pre recorded. No motorcycles or animals like lions tigers n elephants but they had a fake robo dog which was TRASH!!Food horrible. NEVER!! Gotta do better. Do yo homework on universal sol circus

1.0 star rating Debbie from Kansas City


The circus was a complete disappointment. Not one animal (not even a dog) and no clowns. Kids were restless with singing and drums. Will not be going again.

1.0 star rating Denis from jacksonville florida


I wouldn't go again. It is not circus anymore and the show is nothing special...acrobat shows that you saw hundred times already, cheesy Disney like singing of was boring and not worth the money.

Photo of Andrea W.
Andrea W.
Jan 7, 2024

Just not the same. Plus $35 for cotton candy $14 for crushed flavored ice in a cup !!! Hello !!
The ringmaster at Amalie Arena was mediocre and none of the clowns could get the crowd 'going'
I am sad our grandsons will really not know 'the circus' with its wonderful smells sights and acts! But happy our grown daughters (41/39/26/33) all did. Year after year after year. And so on !
Times they are changing -for sure!!
Photo of Melba P.
Melba P.
Chicago, IL
Nov 7, 2023

BORING!! Bring back the animals!

This was a subpar Disney performance at best.

I did enjoy the acrobats and highwire performances, though.
Photo of Mark I.
Mark I.
Jan 27, 2024

It's really not a circus. No animals, no clowns, just an acrobatic show. My kid was very bored. Plus a popcorn and cotton candy cost $34. Complete disappointment. Do not waste your money and time.
Photo of Cindy I.
Cindy I.
Nov 5, 2023

Lamest show on earth!! No clowns and no animals made no fun for the kids! The "new approach to the circus" was not good enough to have the Ringling Brothers legacy! Don't waste your money on this, but go to a rodeo instead for great entertainment with animals and clowns and authentic danger!
Photo of Mike O.
Mike O.
Belle Isle, FL
Jan 14, 2024

After reading the first review of this, I was actually expecting to see a circus. Let's make it clear, Bello Nock, elephants, trained animals of any kind, or any talent worth paying to see was missing from the performance. Exception: 3 girls doing impressive contortions and balancing. This must be an old review or a very fake review that is listed as the first review. Here's what the show was not. It is not a circus. It is definitely not the greatest show on earth. And you don't have to be someone who has been to an actual circus back in the Glory Days when you had animals, talent, clowns, exciting acts to watch. Nothing here was equal to your standard street performer that you would see down at the Key West sunsetfest every night, or during Mardi Gras in New orleans. There was a lot of stuff going on but nothing exceptional, no animals, people clowning around but they weren't dressed up as clowns, and a sorry b team or even c team Tina Turner like I guess you would call ringleader. Definitely not a circus. Quite the disappointment.
Photo of Robert H.
Robert H.
Excelsior Springs, MO
Nov 12, 2023

Save your money.. I bought the tickets so my wife and I could take my 3 year old grandson after he had his second open heart surgery. The show lacked a lot. There was a lot going on all the time but not very entertaining. The sound system sucked, the acts were at times boring and pretty uneventful. We left shortly after intermission. Wished I could have that $200 back again..
Photo of Maggie C.
Maggie C.
Collinsville, IL
Dec 17, 2023

this was a very disappointing show. there were no clowns, animals, and very little actual circus performances. it was about 80% just singing and very bad dancing. I'm sorry, but singing and dancing is not a circus. it's a show I would not recommend or ever go to again.
Photo of Michael S.
Michael S.

END OF STREAM, back to me.

What were they to expect?  Hasn't the circus that dare not speak its name -- removed its name?  It's a show, stupid!

From the photos/videos I have seen, biz looks very good ... 

Most interesting/telling Yelp comment to me is this: "the show is nothing special" 

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Win a Free Copy of My Forthcoming Book --- Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad



For those posting anonymously, please re-post as follows: After posting your answer, leave a distinctive user name that  no others could have used, such as Cotton Andy, Rosin Rosie.  If you are the winner, I will make known your user name, and you will e-mail me directly to provide a name and address for sending out the book, and I will not disclose this information to others. 

Be the first to name the American circus that one season hired a high school jazz band to provide music for the show.

Post your answer in the comments section below; all answers will be kept secret and not posted until the winner is revealed.

I came upon this rather extraordinary event by sheer accident, while gathering photos for the book.

You have 30 days, contestants.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Techno INSANE: When Even the Operator is No Longer Available ... We Embrace Extreme Technology at Our Own Risk

This morning, I called The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, hoping to obtain information about photo reprints for my new book, Keep That Day Job! How to Enjoy Chasing Showbiz Without Going Mad.

I dialed several numbers, one finally gave me the option of pressing O for operator. But even that person was not available -- I'd have to leave a message!!!

It's a nightmare world we seem to be slowly slipping into.  People preferring virtual reality to in--person  contact.  Suicide rates among the young rising.  A nation increasingly submerged in more drugs, massive streams of them crossing the southern boarders and causing death to thousands. Social media streams urban mayhem, major media laps it all up.

Whenever I call Comcast, I end up screaming into my phone TALK TO AN OPERATOR!... TALK TO AN OPERATOR! ... TALK TO AN OPERATOR!

Finally, so far, their AI voices relent, and put me through.

To a call I made a while back to Wells Fargo ,needing to renew a CD,  a voice answered.  "I will be your virtual assistant"   What was going on there?  Maybe with Comcast,  but Wells Fargo?  I had to ask,"Are you a robot?"

He chuckled and assured me he was not, gave his name, and fleshed himself out, and we talked, and the conversation seemed real. Seemed.

One day, it may not be.

Sick.  Sick. Sick.

SANITY IN CHINA? The last word to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, who recently issued an order to one of the regions, to wit: If you have jobs by robots that can be done by humans, hire humans.


Friday, February 02, 2024

MIDWAY FLASH! ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... Elephant Gold at Monte Carlo! Stunning New Revelation Recasts Pacyderms in Slower, More Thougful Mode ...

And yet still, they mesmerize.

Elvis Errani's elephants, if I translated right, won a Gold Clown, and I viewed the act.  More later.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024


Charles and Alexandre Gruss for their horse juggling act

The Kolev Sisters, Michelle and Nicole, for their hand-to-hand performance

The elephants trained by Elvis and Cvetomira Errani

Thursday, January 18, 2024


America Calling:  There they are!  First row, left, our own Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs appearing in this year's festival.   High Honors for two dedicated goof balls helping to keep clowning alive.  

Saturday, January 13, 2024

2023, Looking Back: The Year That Was & Wasn’t


     PERHAPS THE BIGGEST IGNORED EVENT event ever in American circus history was the so-called “comeback” of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey.  Not a single legit notice in a newspaper that I can find. Some will send me “reviews” that turn out to be feature stories in which show people self-review their own work  It sill feels like  media in this country giving up on circus as passe after Ringling folded  in 2017. 


      RINGLING BEING ALL HUMAN may fail to be seen as a comeback, but a make over so radical as to not count as a comeback, defined in my dictionary from Webster, “a return to a former position or condition”  Show is not helped any by “circus” out of the title, by going without  rings or ringmaster, animals or clowns — even a live band.  All of which may strike a hurried reporter taking a fleeting glance as inconsequential.  Which is not to imply they are failing to attract crowds. For all I know, they may be.


     MORE THAN ONCE, I PREDICTED that Ringling would be “Circus du soleil on steroids” If those who have seen it up close and in full are to be believed, how dead wrong was I.


     AS I TOUR OUR REAL OR YOU TUBED SHOWS, seems that suddenly the man in red is MIA.  Truth be told, he was never as fixed a figure as some might argue.  Some times, he was a voice that announced just a few of acts; other times, as in Zoppe Now, a pleasing silent figure in red on the edge of the ring,  but as comforting to see as a caring dad watching all. Ringmasters can still add a very human touch, but they need not be overbearing.  Al Ringling called for “elusive, yet vital.”  Ah, that fits Zoppe’s man.


     DANCE HAS SOMETIMES PLAYED a subsidiary role in circus shows. Ringling’s production numbers used dancers to embellish action. You’ll see this at Vargas and U.K. shows, where a line of girls fill in briefly between turns..  But rarely if ever has dance been made an act itself, as it is in recurring appearances on the Big Apple’s  Roncalli Theater-circus.   Which begs the question, Why?  Were it closer to acrobatic dance, such as  Gene Kelly in flying whirls, and could thrill audiences, then let them dance!


     OUR FURY FRIENDS, robots or costumed performers, are showing up everywhere  — what, to tease kids and kiddie adults into missing them?  To signal ownership’s true heart?  To amuse Americans back into support mode?  Costumed Polar Bears at Big Apple of all places!  Heck, dogs and horses, even pigs, have not been for the most part banned.  They are NOT exotics.  They are DOMESTICS, and adults raising kids are coming to see the learning value of the magical interaction between man and non-man.


        ZOPPE FAMILY CIRCUS HAS DOGS and horses and they are playing long dates in the blue state of insanity (CA), and nobody seems to be picketing them. When they play 60 shows in Redwood city, and in the parking lot of the public library,  we are talking a circus performing for the progressive left and Silicon Valley.  How could this possibly be? Ask a parent.


    NOW THAT I OWN A CAR AGAIN (a Lyft), I am happy to see a Vargas tent more than half full, heck, thriving!  Something I have almost never seen in recent years.  Something that tells me they and the public are connecting.  And yes, not even a fake animal in sight.


      THE OMINOUS RISE IN LIFELINES, if this is indeed a trend, will only further dilute the primal appeal of circus.   There are still plenty of risk takers out there to remind audiences of what sets circus apart.  Surely, this is why so many shows owners still carry the double wheel and motorcycle globe.  


    I'VE A GENERAL IMPRESSION of they're finding renewed acceptance with funny faces more sketchy than thickly made up. It seems to be making a big welcome difference.   Grin, Clown, Grin!  


  THEY CAN EASILY get away with domestics. And a few are still getting away with wild, elephants included. These men of good will towards ailing children are fixtures in the community, the best possible link to a circus wishing to keep the animals 


     TOUGHEN UP, LET GO and Bring in Outside Judges, Mandate Gold Clowns only for mechanic-free acts. All of the others can  still qualify for silver, bronze, and tin foil.


     YOU CAN KICK THE SOUL OUT OF CIRCUS, but you can’t kick it out of a kid who loves amusing animals and funny faces making mischief.

GOOD LUCK, 2024!!!