For sheer eye-popping live entertainment, nothing compares to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Tigers, elephants, horses, clowns, and human cannonballs perform, along with high-wire, trapeze, and acrobatic acts in a fast-paced show that director Jay Smith never allows to slow down for a moment.
This year's installment, "Bellobration," puts Bello Nock, the clown with the outrageously big hair, at the center of the action. Smith uses Bello's considerable skills to pull all the acts together, not simply with his amusing routines but by having him go one-on-one with the acrobatic talent. One running theme in the show involves Bello's crush on acrobat Erendira Wallenda, and his efforts to win her heart include climbing up a 60-foot sway pole, matching her handstands and flips way up in the air with his own. Later, he joins Nikolas Wallenda on the frightening "Wheel of Steel" with his goofy antics.
Bello also works the crowd with simple shtick, which culminates in a charming teeterboard routine with two young audience volunteers. Timing is key here, and Bello plays out the joke just long enough to keep the kids interested.
A dozen other clowns provide backup for Bello and transitions between the acts, with routines including a hilarious "Dancing with the Clowns" bit. The clowns are also integrated more fully into some of the acts, including the appearance of the BMX biking daredevils, Viktor Bako and Benedek Ezteri.
Meanwhile, the Palazovi Troupe creates an impressive spectacle using the teeterboard to build a five-person pyramid. The Aguilar Brothers turn the usually stately high-wire act into a playful, jaw-dropping opportunity to dance, balance on chairs, ride unicycles, even jump from one wire to the other. The Flying Peomas make the most use of the three-ring space, with two teams of aerial acrobats spinning, swinging, and somersaulting 30 feet above the floor.
The sheer number of elephants, horses, and even zebras impressed my young companions, but during Tabayara Maluenda's tiger act (with Maluenda alone in the cage with nine beautiful Royal Bengal and white tigers), my kids were more concerned about the safety of the tigers than their trainer.
It is interesting to note that the choreography for the show was created by Patti Colombo, who earned an Elliot Norton Award for her work on the North Shore Music Theatre production of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," and that the production design is by Beowulf Boritt, whose work has been seen on area stages from the Berkshire Theatre Festival to Shakespeare on the Common.
In a world dominated by interactive video games, the circus feels like a bit of a throwback to an earlier era. But one hour before the show starts, Ringling Bros. opens up the floor to all ticket holders to let the audience get up close and personal with an elephant, meet some clowns, and try on a costume. After that, the experience of seeing people swinging high above your head or exploding out of a cannon right before your eyes is not to be missed.