One Ring Circus: The Barnum Bash Takes On Tacoma Dome
As a child, the circus isn’t much more than a sugar-induced blur. The standard fare of cotton candy, regular candy, and popcorn, combined with the previously unknown spectacle, makes it one of the best days of your young life, but very little is retained. But twenty or more years on, while the circus still offers the potential for sugar blurs, you find more to examine, enjoy, and ponder. That just may be the advertised magic of it all–a show for Children of All Ages.
Pacific Northwesterners’ most recent opportunity to view this unique and long-running tradition is the gold-standard Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth,” which landed at the Tacoma Dome on Friday night for a full weekend of entertainment. (The circus comes to Comcast Arena at Everett this Thursday, August 23, and Kent ShoWare Center the following weekend.) Of the three shows the company has on tour at the moment, it was the Barnum Bash that treated its audience to a nearly two-hour display of acrobatics, animal tricks, and feats of strength.
Featuring just one ring of action, which took up half of the Tacoma Dome’s large floor, the show has a smaller, more intimate feel to it. Among the nearly non-stop action, highlights included trained dogs leaping through hula hoops to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” (really), three motorcycles riding in a metal cage with an acrobat hanging from inside the top, and The Flying Cruzados on a double “wheel of steel.” Rotating on its axis, the performers leap from inside their end’s wheel to the outside, keeping things interesting by jumping rope from time to time. Basketball players on unicycles passed a ball around and around before the husband-and-wife hand-balancing team impressed with their effortless looking strength. While missing lions and tigers, the Barnum Bash features the expected logo-wearing well-trained elephants and the unexpected camel, horse, and dog trio full of feathers and sparkle. Who knew a trotting camel could be so delightful?
A bonus of the Barnum Bash is a free pre-show aimed at the children of young ages portion of the audience. This hour before the show offers a chance to meet performers, try on costumes, go backstage to see the animals, and the sight that is an elephant’s foot dipped in paint and on paper before eating a full loaf of bread. This frivolity is all hosted by fairly non-scary (but very orange-wigged) clown Dean Kelley, who calls this circus gig “a childhood dream come true.”
The show’s strengths lie more in standard circus fare (acrobatics, animals, and stunts) than the comedy used to fill the gaps during costume changes and set adjustments. Anton and Victor Franke’s mime act bored more than it entertained, despite a portion that pulled in an audience member for a faux-boxing ring match. But if there must be a weak link, better it be the father-song comedy duo than the aerial foot-loop acrobats or the man with fire on a stick.