In the mood to embrace the fantastical?
Step right up as the Victoria Theatre Association concludes its 2016-2017 Premier Health Broadway Series with a crowd-pleasing Midwest premiere of “Circus 1903” at the Schuster Center.
A nostalgic ode to P.T. Barnum’s legacy and influence, “Circus 1903,” which premiered in Australia last year and had its American debut in Los Angeles in February, is not a play or musical. Arriving in town mere days after the 71st annual Tony Awards, the show may feel jarringly out of place to theatergoers accustomed to traditional Broadway Series programming. Nonetheless, it is a very entertaining and flashy theatrical depiction of a traveling circus, showcasing marvelous international talent fully prepared to amaze and astound with vibrant, death-defying displays under the direction of Neil Dorward (“The Illusionists”).
Act One standouts include dynamically jaw-dropping contortionist Senayet Assefa Amara (The Elastic Dislocationist) and lovely aerialist Elena Gatilova (Lucky Moon).
In the far stronger and better paced Act Two, exuberant speed juggler Francois Borie (The Great Gaston), skillful acrobats Anny Laplante and Andrei Kalesnikau (Les Incredibles), and handsome foot jugglers Alejandro and Ricardo Rossi (Fratelli Rossi) notably provide breathtaking, encore-worthy routines of astounding athleticism and showmanship.
The entire proceeding is admirably guided by the grandfatherly charm, narrative magnetism and quick wit of David Williamson as Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade. Williamson’s pleasant banter with impressionable youngsters bolsters the show’s heartwarming nature.
By and large, a lack of story structure is an issue and the show-within-a-show concept would be better served in a one-act format. Even so, the superb talent, mostly derived of generations of circus families from Mexico to Russia, and unique puppetry, under the direction of Mervyn Millar, are worth the price of admission. In fact, the show’s two puppet elephants are the brainchild of London-based Significant Object, the creative puppeteers behind acclaimed drama “War Horse.” Todd Edward Ivins’ eye-catching set, Angela Aaron’s attractively colorful turn of the century costumes, Paul Smith’s dazzlingly evocative lighting, and composer Evan Jolly’s dramatic score are added benefits fueling the captivating look and feel of a bygone era.
It can be argued “Circus 1903” is a programming option more inclined to suit a Las Vegas hotel than a Broadway touring house, but it’s certainly a worthwhile, family-friendly, thrill-inducing spectacle.
“Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus” continues through June 18 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Tickets are $30-$97. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com.