A Review

A Tinsel Town Celebration

By R. J. Donovan

The One-Ring Wonder is back in town, and it's as good as ever. With a new home this year, The Big Apple Circus has set up its Big Top camp smack in the middle of City Hall Plaza. Only feet from the Government Center T station, the new location is a definite plus for folks who want park elsewhere and take public transportation.

The title of this year's effort is "Grandma Goes To Hollywood," and the spirited show is a winner from start to finish. The creators have cleverly worked the celluloid theme into every act, adding a Broadway belter (Kathy Halenda) to sing a few show tunes and help reinforce the movie-land connection.

Grandma (otherwise known as Barry Lubin) has become the signature face for The Big Apple Circus, and with good reason. The silent but much-beloved Grandma drifts throughout the "Hollywood" show, adding mayhem between scenes, in the audience and interacting with the rest of the performers. Whether she's emulating Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz," drifting in on an umbrella a la Mary Poppins or striking a hair-raising pose as Princess Leah from "Star Wars," Grandma remains the heart of the Big Apple experience.

And what a joyous, jubilant experience it is. Set in a single ring with incredibly intimate sightlines, The Big Apple Circus has always offered a theme of some sort. However, the Hollywood idea seems to have tightened and focused the production as never before.

Halenda, Grandma and company start things off in a big way with "Hooray For Hollywood." From "Singin' In The Rain" to Charlie Chaplin, the silver screen icons fly by. (There's even a clever "Let's All Go To The Lobby" salute to the concession stand at Intermission.)

Sergey Akimov becomes Peter Pan, and what could be more appropriate as he sails through the air in his aerial strap ballet.

Ninth grader Christian Atayde Stoinev (at left) does an incredible balancing act, assisted by a tea-cup size pooch named Scooby. At one point he balances on one single finger, which looks awfully painful, but Stoinev offers a calm and confident smile throughout.

The exceptional balancing duo of Virgile Peyramaure and Andrey Mantchev take on a comical "Godfather" persona and not only carry it through their act but with some very funny audience participation.

In the animal act department, Yasmine Smart offers some fine equestrian showmanship, ventriloquist Willer Nicolodi cleverly turns a live dog into a willing dummy and The Olate Family put their collection of trained dogs through their routines with an Emerald City glow.

The clown duo of Greg and Karen DeSanto enter to the theme from The Little Rascals. That soon morphs into Laurel and Hardy's signature music as they engage in a sloppy slapstick routine that sends the junior members of the audience into hysteria.

If you're a fan of death-defying feats, watch for teeter-board wizards, The Anhui Acrobatic Troupe, stylish jugglers Elena and Her Gentlemen, and the the aerial trapeze artistry of The Garamov Troupe.

The international company of entertainers come bearing a sackful of awards and honors. Among their individual credits, they've performed everywhere from The White House to Lincoln Center, the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo, Circus Knei in Switzerland, The Lido in Paris, Circus Roncalli in Germany and at a Royal Command Performance honoring Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee.

"Fun for the whole family" has become a too-easily applied phrase. However, it aptly describes the jazzy celebration known as The Big Apple Circus.

Inspired by musical extravaganzas, westerns, thrillers, sci-fi fantasies and comedies, "Grandma Goes to Hollywood" rolls out the red carpet for an Oscar-worthy night of entertainment.

The Big Apple Circus is under The Big Top at City Hall Plaza in Boston, through May 7. For information, call Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787.

Photos: Bertrand Guay/ Big Apple Circus

-- OnStage Boston


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