Big Apple Circus goes doo-wop

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Nov. 2, 2001 at 12:01 PM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The Big Apple Circus has returned to Lincoln Center for the holidays with a 1950s doo-wop version of its one-ring show that features horses, dogs, bicycles, aerialists, acrobats, tumblers, and a juggler.

The intimate tented show titled "Big Top Doo-Wop" will be performing at its usual Damrosch Park site through Jan. 6 with its star clown, Barry Rubin, in the character of Grandma, back after a three-year absence. It is the second stop on the company's 11-month, 10-city tour that started in Washington, D.C., and includes major venues on the East Coast.

This year the show is introduced by the voice of Dick Clark and evokes memories of Big Band dancing, leather-clad bikers, hula-hoops, high school proms, and Ed Sullivan, Elvis Presley, Roy Rogers, Buddy Holly, and the Lone Ranger. It creates nostalgia for adults in the audience and fun for kids who perceive the Captain Video era as ancient history.

The circus was founded as a not-for-profit entertainment 25 years ago by Paul Binder, a onetime Merv Griffin talent coordinator turned circus juggler, and Michael Christensen, a former pantomimist turned clown. Binder is the show's ringmaster and his wife, equestrienne Katja Schumann of the Danish Schumann circus family, is one of its stars.

Christensen heads the circus' Clown Care Unit that operates in 15 hospitals from Boston to Seattle, in which 90 clown "doctors" make 200,000 bedside visits a year to patients in pediatric wards. Other programs make the circus available to 50,000 vision and hearing-impaired, disadvantaged, and physically challenged youth and offers circus arts programs to inner-city youth.

The Big Apple Circus is more international this year than ever, with performers representing 23 nations.

Newcomers to the show are Australia's Justin Case, whose hilarious bicycle comedy routine has him riding a normal size bike that keeps coming apart and miniature bikes that work perfectly and take him through a small flaming hoop, and Canadian Emile Carey, whose awesome specialty is juggling as many as seven balls at once in a variety of seemingly impossible patterns as he goes up and down a flight of stairs.

The Jokers, one of the best trapeze acts in the business, have returned to the circus with a new act including Mikhail Skomorkhov performing triple somersaults nearly 40 feet above the tanbark. This Russian troupe of four men work from platforms spaced apart at a much greater distance that commonly used by American trapeze artists, and they are truly dazzling in their daring.

Also from Russia are the high-energy Maiorov Troupe of Olympic-level tumblers, four men and a woman, who use a rubber netting run-track that allows them to execute intricate and gravity-defying acrobatic figures. Other Russian acrobats, petite Regina Dobrovitskaya and muscle man Valdis Yanovskis, team up to perform lyric aerial choreography in an act called "At the Prom."

Katja Schumann and her children Katherine and Max Binder exhibit splendid equestrian skills in an act titled "In the Land of Wild Horses," and Carlos and Susanne Svenson from Sweden do amazing acrobatics in a comic act performed on the broad backs of two white Lipizzaner steeds.

The only other animal act is the Olate Family's Dogs from Chile, a lovable collection of poodles and terriers who walk, push scooters, slide down chutes, jump hurdles, and prove they can clown around just like humans and get as many laughs.

Grandma slips in and out of the ring to intervene in some acts or interact with two other clowns, Monday (Dick Monday) and Slappy (Tiffany Riley). Lubin wears his usual Grandma garb -- red dress, yellow stockings, an Orphan Annie wig, spectacles, and a strand of pearls. Lubin doesn't play every performance but shares Grandma with Mark Gindick, a Lubin student who comes to the show from Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey.

Michel Barette has directed the production, Rob Slowik conducts the circus band, giving it a big-band sound, and Dinny McGuire is a stentorian vocal soloist. Mirena Rada's costumes are outstanding, especially the flame-finned tights worn by the Jokers. And Lisa LeAnn Dalton deserves kudos for her effective and always artistic choreography.

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