Tour Review: BUILT TO AMAZE! (Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 2, 2013

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


The circus has rolled into Rosemont again, and the fall classic is worth running off to join (it moves to the United Center after Allstate Arena). This 143rd edition, Built to Amaze!, revels in its “construction zone” ambiance: An “engineering” ensemble parade as blue-collar workers erecting an edifice that slowly becomes, well, “the greatest show on earth.” As always, the Ringling Brothers/Barnum extravaganza spills over with an extraordinarily actual Elephant Act from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's BUILT TO AMAZE!panoply of awesome talent (as in non-virtual). Acrobatic and energetic, 110 performers from 17 countries appear along with 95 exotic and domestic animals. The symbolic shipping crates that the cast wheel in are actually packed with magic.

And, yes, the non-human acts are very guilty pleasures. A highlight from Russia are the beast-loving duo Alex and Irina Emelin who can get their 16 black and white poodles to do everything that evolution will permit (though their supposed magic act with a rabbit and a boa constrictor was more confusing than thrilling). As always, the Asian elephants are a happy herd of crowd-pleasing pachyderms who create a leaning wall that stretches clear across the center ring. Equally awesome are Tabayara Maluneda’s tigers—white, tabby, black and white and black and orange—and all far more obedient than my orange tabby named Amber. The other animal menagerie, not to be missed, are the beautiful Liberty horses—gorgeous Frisians, Arabians, Paints and Norwegian Fjords, equestrian fantasies all.

Returning this year after a long absence is the unicycle-riding, basketball-playing King Charles Troupe, a staple since 1969 who can make the Harlem Globetrotters look calm. This year’s other thrill acts abound, including the Ukrainian-based Tower Tumblers who use two trampolines to launch themselves over and around a three-story translucent tower and the Stars of the Steel Vortex who cavort around a 46-foot rolling wheel at more than 25 miles per hour and without a net.

King Charles Troupe from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's BUILT TO AMAZE!

More heart-pounding entertainment from the Danguir Troupe, high-wire walkers who come as close as you can bear to pushing the envelope on the laws of physics and an audience’s tolerance for risk-taking. Awesome to the point of superhuman, the Negrey Troupe from Russia and the Ukraine are supple young tyros who can perform over 300 rolls, flips, leaps and jumps down an 80-foot-long fast track, the cartwheels and hand springs proof of triumphant youth and endless energy. Along with the sexy hand-balancing partners Duo Fusion and Solys, there’s a “human cannonball” named Elliana Grace who soars 100 feet across the stage at 65 miles per hour, propelled from a 24-foot long cannon whose diameter is just 30 inches. Along with the Kiev Aerialists and the upside-down “footlooping” of Francleib Rodrigues and Monica Neves, the Iron Jaw aerialists Dimitri Dolgikh and Nadejhda Tarsova float through space on high aerial straps 35 feet above a very hard stage.

Duo Fusion from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's BUILT TO AMAZE!

Indeed, Built to Amaze! is one of the most generous spectaculars from the circus empire in some time. And that doesn’t include the colorful International Folklore Dancers, the 12 cavorting clowns with their contagious antics, or the hour-long pre-show where audience members can mingle with circus stars or do their own acrobatics in a bouncy house or watch an elephant do a very original painting. The face-off of girl power between the Ringling Girls and boy power from Barnum B-Boys is so exciting you’ll root for both sides. This is theater at its most unabashed and, unlike so much in so-called real life, you can’t fake this kind of splendor.

Human Cannonball from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's BUILT TO AMAZE!

photos courtesy of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Built to Amaze!
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Allstate Arena through Nov. 11, 2013
for tickets, call 847.635.6601
United Center Nov. 20-Dec. 1, 2013
for tickets, call 312.455.4500
for future cities and dates, visit Ringling

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