A Review

Fun In The Round

By R. J. Donovan

Despite the brisk temps, spring can't be far away because The Big Apple Circus has returned to town, pitching its big top tent in the middle of City Hall Plaza.   As everybody knows by now, Big Apple is the One Ring Wonder.  Seating is intimate, and nobody is ever too far away from the action.

This year's title is "Play On" -- as in . . . "if music be the food of love, play on."  As such, the big design element turns out to be musical notes, which are liberally splashed across costumes, the tent ceiling and the bandstand. 

This year's Circus seems a little less grand, but no less populated by talented folk.  Also, Ringmaster Paul Binder is among the missing, despite his name being listed in the program as hosting the show. (Reportedly, he's retired from the road to spend more time in the organization's main offices.) So hosting duties fall to Carrie Harvey, who sweeps out into the ring in a long white tail coat, her hair pulled back in a huge ponytail.

The succession of acts new and old includes everyone from Guiming Meng balancing a progression of chinese pots on his head to tightrope walker Sarah Schwarz and trapese artsits The Flying Cortes.  Among the more interesting folks were the juggling LaSalle Brothers (at left), who presented an impressive routine that featured highly theatrical choreography, to Les Freres Taquin which features a guy who might best be called a robotic mime. Very clever.

A couple of the acts this year are in need of a little staging help.  There's certainly an art to their skills, but there's also an art to the dramatic presentation of those skills.  The acrobatic team of the Rodion Troupe, in particular, didn't seem to know how to signal the end of a feat cleanly accomplished so as to trigger audience appreciation via applause. It sort of left the crowd collectively learning forward a bit in their seats and wondering, "Now?"

This is a circus after all, so a stable of clowns abounds, including Grandma, who's on hand, but oddly without a strong solo spot this time around.  I mean, Grandma's the face of the circus and is prominently featured on every poster and ad.

The two new clowns are Glen Heroy and Mark Gindick (above).  Both are great fun, but it's the energetic and expressive Gindick who proves to be the surprise find of the show.  With his dress shirt, bow tie and over-sized tuxedo pants held up by suspenders, he's all over the place, from wandering the audience pre-show to a couple of very funny bits between acts to standing in the center of the stage mob during the final bows.

Audience participation is always a part of the fun. Several audience members, young and old, took a turn at conducting the band.  And there was a dance-off contest between Grandma and a guy from the audience -- who, unbeknown to his selector, turned out to be Chuck Nowlin, afternoon DJ at WZLX.  Being the gregarious guy (and good sport) he is, he tore it up with the best of them from Irish step dancing to boogie fever, blowing Grandma away and soundly winning the approval of the crowd.

Finally, I can never write about The Big Apple Circus without mentioning the good deeds they do for the community beyond their performances in the ring. Their Clown Care professional hospital clowning program operates in many pediatric hospitals from Atlanta to Seattle (including Boston). Circus For All distributes 50,000 complimentary tickets to economically disadvantaged and physical challenged kids so they can savor the wonder of the circus -- many for the first time. Beyond the Ring is an arts in education program. And Circus of the Senses invites kids with vision or hearing disabilities to experience the joy of the circus with a specialized performance just for them -- free of charge.

Presented in partnership with The Boston Children's Museum, The Big Apple Circus continues through May 10.

"The Big Apple Circus" is at City Hall Plaza through May 10. For information, stop by the Box Office adjacent to the Big Top (opens daily at 10 AM), call 1-888-541-3750 or visit www.bigapplecircus.org.

-- OnStage Boston



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