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Friday, September 22, 2017

Aspiring Young Master Chefs, Paced by Grillmaster Gordon, Stir up a Sizzling Good Show ... I Am Happily Hooked ...

So much so, that I actually denied myself the next episode of the compelling Vietnam War, playing the same two-hours, feeling my greater loyalties to these enthused and dedicated and charming young cooks.  I had to see who would be crowned Master Chef.


I was so late in getting hooked on this show, mainly because I avoid all competition shows, save for the circus parts of America's Got Talent.

I guess it was a matter of surfing past the show one night, and being taken by the competitors toiling over their grills.   I loved their enthusiasm for what they were doing. Real non-digital work!  And not another veiled flesh show.  How about that!

Jason Wang, below, was one of my favorites.  So passionately expressive!  Turns out he is a 34-year-old music teacher.   He was one of the three finalists, and well deserved to be there.






Yachecia Holston. eliminated only one week before finale,  was my favorite.  Loved her embracing spirit.  I just discovered she is a minister from Michigan.  Heck, I'd give her pulpit a try.  I bet it sizzles.


Another of my pets was the cool creative showman, Dino Angelo Luciano, a free spirited dancer from Brooklyn who crossed his heart the Catholic way many times..


Why had I resisted the program for so long?  About head master, Ramsay Gordon, seen here, center, I remembered trying to watch his Hell's Kitchens, only to give up on what struck me as scripted, the restaurant operations so bad as to feel facial.  Heck, I could have been a master chef in one of those dumps! I make a great mock red potato garlic fry. My no-frills specialty are frozen  stir-fry vegetables over the frying pan.


Gordon and a guest judge are conferring with Dino.  They were obviously impressed, to such a degree that I wondered how the final decision was actually made ... 

But then, came Eboni Henry, below, with a dish so admired by the judges, I got a feeling she was going to be the winner.  But, oh no!  One of her items in the next entree fell apart upon closer examination.  You can feel her heartbreak.


Dino wins!
They loved his daring creativity. But they also loved Jason's, too.  I guess we can only assume the judging was as fair as it could be.


What not to like about Master Chef? First of all, the one-hour programs are ingeniously staged into sections that each move at a good clip, driven by a spirit of intense urgency (the Ramsay factor) at every frame.  There is very little off the off-set stuff that clutters up the other shows, such as footage of home life.  None of such bloat that would keep me away.  The Master Chef cameras stick to the action down on the grills.   Great fast-moving showmanship!  Give an A to all the judges: Gordon Ramsay, Christina Tosi and Aarón Sánchez, for working so well together.

Most of all, to the can-do spirits of the captivating contestants.

I already miss Master Chef.

I see they are re-running an episode next week.  I liked the aspiring grill masters so much, I may tune just to relive old times with them in the kitchen.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Step Right Up, Book Buyers! More Acclaim for Big Top Typewritter Calls for an Old Fashioned Midway Ballyhoo ... Buy Now for only $10!


Update 9/20: Publisher raised the price to $18.50, but Amazon has retained the sale by offering a nearly 50% discount


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 -- Publishers Weekly


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Blasting News




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"HERE IS A BOOK THAT HITS ALL MY BUTTONS ... THERE IS A CHARISMA TO HAMMARSTROM'S WRITING THAT KEEPS ME WITH HIM ... A UNIQUE TAKE ON CIRCUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY ... HIGHLY ENJOYABLE"  
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 Amazon consumer review

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"A BOOK WITH GLUE ON THE COVER ... I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN!”
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5.18.17 
6.21.17

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ringling Homecoming in Baraboo Gives Circus Alumni an “Electrifying” Show to Remember

 
A couple of months after the official final performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey on Long Island, another show that felt to some like the real last show took place in the very town in which the famed circus  was born.  Baraboo.

How I would love to have been there when a tent packed with Ringling alumni, in town for the circus days celebration, were given a private show on the grounds of the Circus World Museum..  

On the eve of the annual Baraboo bash, former Ringling employees shared hugs and tears and cheered ecstatically during the special performance

What a heart warming close to arguably the most famous circus name in the world  – under a small tent not so different in size from the one under which the five Ringling brothers gave their first circus, back in 1884,

Said Circus World executive director Scott O’Donnell to the Baraboo News Republic “So many people who attended said that that show almost meant more to them than the last show of Ringling Brothers ... It was an electrifying night under the big top.”

Ringmaster David SaLoutos and the performers sang and danced between their acts.  As cheers rang through the tent, tears flowed across grateful eyes. At least 16 standing ovations stopped the show during the private performance.

O’Donnell described it, one of the most “raw, emotional” shows he had ever seen.

Can you feel what I feel?

Here is where the Ringling brothers began their legendary ascent to the rise of American circus kings.

And here is where (thank you, circus Gods of the State of Wisconsin), the wonderful  Ringling story and  history will continue to be kept passionately alive for many seasons to come.  There should be a Congressional degree mandating the permanence of Circus World

 “They hooted and hollered — you never felt so much love in your life,” recounted SaLoutos, above, summing up the rapturous reception.  “It was like getting 500 hugs. We were on such a high after that performance I don’t know if anybody slept that night.”

You might say that a circle of history was closed.  The symmetry alone is a beautiful thing.

Au Revoir ...

Baraboo

Ringling

Circus

The Greatest Show on Earth

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Bello Nock Wows America’s Got Talent — Until He Doesn’t ... In the Wider World of Reality TV, a World Acclaimed Circus Star is Just Another Humble Competitor ...


 
The millions who watched Bello perform so winningly on America’s Got Talent would not have known of his world-acclaimed status.. I have a feeling that the show actively recruits circus acts — the better the act, the better to give the programs more variety and thrills.

A few weeks ago during semi-finals, I finally got to catch Bella’s act on the Wheel of Death.  Indeed, to watch the best of Bello (I imagine) for the first time. For, you see, I am now after all these years a  fan of Bello’s unique gifts.  Call it a belated discovery.
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On the big wheel, he ingeniously combined acrobatic dexterity, bravado and comedy to win me over in a big way.  What I liked was how he built his routine, first inside the wheels, and then on the outer rims, cleverly escalating the danger.

The prop itself is one of the best props ever to give the circus an almost guaranteed thrill. One need only ride it and stay aloft to keep any crowd awake and tuned in, cell phones ignored.

And so I had my breakthrough moment with this Bello fellow, whose relatives I remember on Ringling in 1955, atop their tall lean "sway poles," but not really doing much.  Made for great ad copy --- mid air exchanges!  Nothing like what you might be imagining, folks.

I remembered Bello’s early days on Ringling when I could never know where to place him — goofy kid clown?  Lazy daredevil?  I could not find a compelling focus.


On the AGT stage, the judges were wowed. And scared to the pits of their stomachs.  So was the audience. Indeed, what won them over was true danger -- the stark clarity of Bello working with no safety aids. This will only deepen their respect for the genuine and artistic risk-taking performer.  

Alas, the Monte Carlo Gold Clown winner ended up, as eliminations proceeded, being pitted against a roller skating act.  One would stay on. The other would go home.

What an odd pairing.  The judges had expressed possibly more enthusiasm over the skaters. And so I grew anxious.  Could he really lose out to ... the unthinkable ???



I cast my silent vote for Bello.

The judges cast theirs for the skaters   A roller skating act!?!  Bello lost out to a roller skating act!  What a humiliation.  Okay, to its credit, the skaters did more than I usually see in these types of acts.
I have seen so many of the same sort over the years, that I have grown jaded.

I felt such a sadness for Bello, who had to take it, and take it,  graciously he did..

Really, what Bello achieved encompassed many more skills. In my book, there can be no comparison.

What next for this open-minded television show that is  helping to keep alive the ageless lure of ring wizards?  And before not thousands or hundreds – or dozens – but millions.  Doesn't that make you feel good?  It does me. So what next?  Jenny Vidbel's bohemian barnyard?  A young fiery flyer attempting the quad?

Why not? 

Best of all, these judges appear totally free of a tainted bias for the precious Cirque du Soleil school of circus.  It is so satisfying just to watch them react with almost a child like wonder to what passes before their eyes. They are the perfect panel for circus performers of all stripes.  I say, bring more big top on!

The circus has three very good friends in America’s Got Talent. And in this we can take heart. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Carson & Barnes Trucks Ready to Re-Roll, the Tents to Rise Again as 2017 Tour Resumes in Texas ...

And pray that Hurricane Harvey will be nowhere near The Colony, Texas on September 9.

That's when the show resumes its tour, as they promised to do when they  shuttered the summer dates for a hiatus.

Per the show's website policy, two weeks are listed in advance.  After The Colony (located well above Dallas),  the arrows will point down through Arkansas and Mississippi, and thence onto Selma, Alabama, and as far as Mobile, on September 24.

Tickets range from $6 for a child booked in advance, to $26 for adults on the day of the show.  Website offers a free-kids ticket printout, requiring the accompaniment of an adult.

Program, as before established, seems to stay the course, offering a fairly pleasing mixture of big top thrills, including foot juggling, revolving cube, lira, perch pole, horses, comedy from Mickie the Clown, balancing on spheres, elephants, rolling globes, contortion, and the Wheel of Death.

On paper, ground action would appear to take precedence over in-the-air exploits.

First half closer, the CircusSaurus production, about which I've heard good things, remains on the bill, and it makes for impressive ad copy.  Still, the incorporation of elephants decked out as dinosaurs begs the question, is this the wisest thing to do?   Yes, a very impolite question to ask.  Like it or not, the elephant-thing is surely the most vexing and divisive issue that every circus own must face these days.   What I would really like to know is if the Melha Shrine up in Mass. won back the crowds they lost in 2016, people who stayed away because there were no elephants.  Did those customers return this year to enjoy the reinstated pachyderms?


How long might the Byrds keep their tent in the air on this fall tour?

Here is what to look for, and what to (possibly) make of it.

Four weeks: A good faith effort to stay the course, lending hope for 2018.

Eight weeks: Assuming business picks up, a respectable showing in the most difficult of tent trouping times.

Ten weeks plus: Very promising for next year

And that’s the way it is. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Circus Fans in Turmoil: Do You Suffer FOACC? Approach All Circus Websites at Your Own Peril

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Is that desolate enough?   As close as I could find to an ideal image for here-- rings in the dust after a circus has left town. I'm still looking ...

Count me among the walking wounded on an ominously circus-unfriendly horizon, waiting for the trouping wounded to find the magic, to rekindle what was there and to thrill us once again with shows coming and going.  Midways teeming with happy healthy crowds.  Tents filling up with happy healthy half houses. People in the seats! 

That too much to ask for?

Daringly aware of the shaky situation out there, I set out periodically, as I did this weekend, to take a roll call of the shows still clinging to a semblance of precarious prosperity.   You see, I suffer from FOACC— Fear of another circus closing.

And you, too?


At the still-operational Zoppe Family Cricus

From Giovanni Zoppé to Nathan Hunt at Road and Kingdomes: 

“If I have one or two weeks bad, I’m done, I’m bankrupt.”

My latest roll call finds the following:

CARSON & BARNES.  Website unchanged, no indication yet of the fall dates projected by management when they shuttered early to cancel summer dates, look for fresh funding and regroup.

BIG APPLE CIRCUS: New website holding, with a YouTube teaser of some of the acts.   New owners are promising nothing beyond Lincoln Center.  I recently read that the tent itself was not a part of the auction, that it is  owned by the city of New York   How very odd – or interesting.  BAC ticket software seems to show the same seating layout as in the old setting, as wistfully I recall.  

UNIVERSOUL CIRCUS: By far the most appealing website, if only for its video of show clips, most impressive of them all.  How I wished the show still came west.  They once had two units, no longer.  Current dates ahead include big Midwest cities and Detroit.

KELLY MILLER: Linking onto "upcoming dates," the last one I found was for the day I was looking, on Saturday!  FOACC attack!  No, No, please don’t do a C&B on me!  Calm down, I told myself, get a grip and check out the KM Facebook page.  Yes, good, idea.  So I hurried over there, and scrolled up and down, furiously looking for signs of future life.   RELIEF: I found a few postings listing October dates just signed.

Happily I returned to rejoin the walking wounded.  But I must concede here and now:  From what I have seen and heard, John Ringling North II will have to import a fresh roster of talent, top to bottom if he is to have a fighting chance at recapturing a  shrinking customer base. His best first move would be to bring back clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs. Oh, yes!

CIRCUS VARGAS: They’re coming my way with their usual slavish devotion to wanting to be  Cirque du Soleil.   This one called Steam Cirque.  Not an animal in sight, not even a dog!  I wonder if all pets are banned from the backyard village of house trailers.  Yes, some of the acts are rather top notch (not the lazy flyers), but there is a strange air of a circus nearly suffocating in its own desire to look like anything but a traditional circus.  I do wish them well.

    A new reality offers the basics in friendlier settings
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Suddenly, the littler tops are taking on greater appeal to me as they become my default option.  And my appreciation is growing. It must.  Of course, I am having to lower the bar on my expectations, knowing I will not be spoiled by what Ringling and Big Apple usually gave me.

So I am drawing some comfort and solace from looking forward to next year’s locally born and based Circus Bella, especially since I missed this years.  Show has a sunny spirit and a crackerjack band. When earlier I took a pulse of their website, the discovery of co-founder David Hunt’s name missing among the trouping wounded left me nearly in a panic attack.  What, no David Hunt?  Are you kidding!  Only last year, he broke out in a new and very winning role, that of one of the most casually engaging and hip ringmasters I have yet come across. And without airs.  He was a natural for the part, a big reason being that he did not overstay his time at the mike— as some are known to do.  I can think of one who is now out of work.

Had I seen the show, I would have asked for my free admission back.  So, I had to contact Circus Bella about this.  Came a nice reply from Hunt’s co-founder aerialist Abigail Munn, curing me of my premature FOACC.   “David is still near and dear.”  He was too busy teaching circus skills to a summer class to appear with the show, wrote Abigail, who vowed to try "luring him back into the ring" next season.  How grand that would be!  


And where does this leave me and my rattled blog?  I once reported  on circuses and reviewed them. Now, it seems as if I am turning out one obit after another, and I don’t like it.

Circus Vargas will be playing in a very unflattering place, where I have seen it two times before, at the Southland Mall in Hayward.   How lyrically bleak a location, so in tune with today’s battered big tops.  Tent goes up next to a freeway, over the asphalt parking of a  mall that, itself, like so many other malls, may be dying a slow death. To walk it is to feel the ghostly presence a dying American institution.  How unfortunately odd that this circus and malls should end up sharing the same space.  PLEASE, Vargas, a little fake grass?  Dirt?  Elephant dung?      

To get out there, I end up on a bus which I reach on BART,  and facing another phobia: getting mugged or beaten up by local hoodlums who these days are storming BART cars, robbing and knocking down innocent passengers. 
 
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So, is this the way the world will end -- not with that T. S.Elliot whimper, but with the last show of the last circus on the last mall in America?

 The first Bella show, in 2009.

Thanks to fearless cyber courier Don Covington for facing the music and sharing it with others.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Big Apple Circus Impresses with Web Graphics, Act Lineup Favoring Old-Line Thrills for Return to Lincoln Center ... No Sign of Paul and Michael, the Clown Care Unit, or a Tour Ahead ...


Well, what do you know, a circus is coming!   Or should I say, is returning? Any news of a circus coming or re-birthing, rebooting or rebounding  in these days of bare lots and banner lines missing in action, is good news.  The Big Apple Circus, under new ownership, is the reason. so let's have a blast of trumpets and a standing ovation even before the first act hits the ring.

New Sarasota-based  owners have been pushing an early ballyhoo that promises maybe more beef than ballet, what with outdoor high wire daredevil Nik Wallenda  topping the marquee.  Under  canvas, he will put up the precarious seven-high pyramid, which is an act fraught with danger, what with the group taking a nasty tumble last year in Sarasota that left several seriously injured.  So far, Nik is sharing top billing with the return of Grandma, the latter, I’d say, the best move these new owners have made so far.  Another reassuring move is the retention of band leader Rob Slowik to oversee music.  Of courses, what he turns out largely rides on the quality of the score he is handed ...

But what else will be the show?  Digging deeper into the Big Apple Circus website,  I found photos of other acts. among whom -- Ammed Tunziani,  photo at top, who flew with Ringling the last four years  and managed to land at least one quad, will be attempting the elusive trick at every Big Apple Performance.  This should give patrons an exciting Big Moment to look forward to. Unlike with the seven-high, audiences can enjoy the flying exploits stress-free, over the traditional net.  I stress stress free because I think circus audiences have become more accustomed to acts veering away from obvious severe danger.



Other turns include the Anastani brothers, above, with an Icarian display; juggler Gamal Garcia Tuniziani, contortionist Elayne Kramer, an African Russian Bar exhibition, and Jenny Vidbel's animals.  Her bohemian barnyard a few years back, which I was lucky to catch (remember -- a skunk and /or rodent and other oddball critters?) marked a high point in circus animal act training; and roller skaters Dandino and Luciano.  Along with Grandma, Joel Jeske to stir up additional giggles and guffaws. To be directed by Mark Lonegran, who staged last year’s Grand Tour.

Will the seven-high make a bigger or smaller impact in so small a setting? The act was born in the late 1940s, when circus shows commanded multiple rings and thousands of seats.   I saw it as a kid on the Polack show, to this day the most memorable moment in my circus-going life.  But those were different times.


Given the scope and athletic daring-do of outdoor reality TV, somehow I don't see the seven-high having the same impact as in did in days gone by.   When the Felds presented the seven high, they rigged it over an end ring, hardly a statement of pride or stature.  The night I attended the show, act was a no-show, due to a recent mishap.

We are about to witness a difficult transition.  New owners pledged to continue Big Apple Circus traditions established by Paul and Michael, but I see modest evidence of  this. Website has a "Giving Back to the Community" list of free charitable shows, etc, though no mention of the Clown Care Unit.  Nonetheless, what they have done so far looks promising.  “New York to the core,” proclaims new promo and ad copy.   Let’s hope the tour -- or one-date stand -- ahead will be a grander one.

Cry, Clown, Cry: In a  recent,very moving issue of Circus Report, two bitter-sweet accounts, one by fan Alex Smith from Providence,  the other by former Ringling clown Andrew Rose, at Nasseau, of watching the last Ringling performances.  Had I been there to see one of them, I might have cried all the way through.   Ringling-Barnum encapsulates so much American circus history!  I still say it shouldn’t have happened ... Anybody know how well the Melha Shrine did this year when they brought back the elephants?  Did the missing crowds who complained of their absence actually return?  I google the question, and come up with nothing.
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END RINGERS: Have I got some goodies:  Blood bath at New England Center for Circus Arts: Seems that a few professors have quit, some students have walked, over recent firing of co-founders, twin sisters Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion.  Ugly scene only getting uglier.  My own lingering questions remain: Whatever comes out of this all, will this school or any other school in this country EVER produce top-flight circus acts? Pardon my indiscretion ... Kenneth Feld’s great love for the elephants included his own elephant compound, all along, I suspected, mainly a PR ploy to counter PETA and other animal groups forcing him into courtrooms.  Now there's word that it’s probably going to be phased out, that some elephants may be up for sale.  Are you surprised? ... .... America's got circus, too!  Hey, Mr. Producer:  How about booking a star turn off America's Got Talent?   Circus action fairly dominated the first half hour of a recent special featuring the judges favorite acts from the season so far.  Millions of Americans watch this show.  Knock!  Knock!  Anybody get my drift?  Some hints ...




Friday, July 07, 2017

A Sneak Peek at the Hugh Jackman Barnum Movie, Due Out in December

 
The new movie on Barnum's life, starring Hugh Jackman, is now offering a You Tube trailer.

I've watched it twice, and don't know exactly what to think.  Some first impressions:

Jackman cuts a dashing figure.

The settings look historically very authentic.  To me, the most promising sign.

Not so promising:  A predominant image of a ring filled with about as diverse a tribe of human characters as you will find anywhere, well, in  San Francisco.  The impression is more of a sideshow than a circus.  With this comes what may be the main theme in spoken words: We are all different.

Ah yes, different.  And just in time for the next diversity breakthrough revolution in America's self-creation mania.

An upbeat soulful song will no doubt appeal to younger ears.   My more mature ears found it generically engaging, although it struck me as being out of place in the period setting, as was the spectacle of an aerialist swooping down from above, looking more like Cirque du Disney than Barnum & Bailey.  

But then, this is to be a movie musical,  and based on what I saw ....  The VERDICT, Please!

I have no idea.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

MIDWAY FLASH! ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... Carson & Barnes Circus Heading Back to Hugo ... Summer Dates Shuttered ... Fall Tour Promised ...


From the show's Facebook: "For unseen circumstances with additional financial burdens,we have come to the difficult decision to bring the show off the road for the remaining summer months."

Last summer dates to be played are at Williamsburg, PA on July 10th. 

Traditional Circus Has a Friend In America's Got Talent ... TV Hit Delivers the Magic to Millions


Other night, I tuned in to America’s Got Talent, and was tickled to discover one remarkably accomplished performer  – a dog names Hero — nearing the end of what  I imagined to have been a marvelous performance.    Talk about novelty.  Hero and trainer Sara Carson interacted in the most unexpected ways.  That’s the wonder of circus discovery.

And then came a shocking display of judging indifference.   Two of the four judges, Mel and Howie, adamantly refused to be impressed!

What?  Were they kidding?  Pre-scripted?   I could not believe my eyes.

Neither could Simon Cowell, astonished and not a little angry.  He had loved the act as much as did the audience, as much as did I. 


So distraught over the two dissenters, whose thumbs down eliminated the act, Simon  huffed and puffed up onto the stage, as if willfully defying ground rules,  joined Hero and Sara, and made a direct appeal to the audience for a show of support, which it delivered in cheering waves.  Then he pleaded  with Howie and Mel to reverse their votes.  Mel held firm.  Howie reversed his, thus allowing Hero through to the next phase!  And you'd thought Simon had just parted the red sea. 


Simon is not the most famous entertainment critic in the world for nothing.

I love this show, even though I only ever see parts of it, and I love these particular judges, who generally, in the face of circus action, display such embracing enthusiasm.  They are Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum, and Simon   No Montreal airs compete on this program.  No navel-gazing or artsy posturing of the sort that we saw far too much of on the ill-fated Celebrity Circus from NBC, a few years back.  Pandering, really fawning, to the Cirque du Soleil stye of act, the humdrum Celebrity lasted through but five dreary episodes. 

In fact, the America's Got Talent judges can sometimes be so taken by what many of us might consider a staple act, that I am left to wonder how many circuses any of them  have seen in recent times.



Never you mind, they are helping to remind Americans why we still go to circus shows.

And Simon leads the way.   Although, he has issues with clowns, a fearful aversion he openly revealed last season.  Which may make the producers, of whom he is one,  more open  — and comedic characters more challenged to deliver on — quirky variations on clowning, sans traditional makeup and floppy shoes.




America's Got Talent  reaches millions and so perhaps this show is doing more to keep alive a vibrant impression of circus than any other venue out there.  When the young people taking up circus arts in our nation’s classrooms watch the show, I hope they are inspired to respect the primal power of the big top basics.  After all, a trick is a trick is a trick.

Oh, what a night it was.  Praise the dog and damn those judges!