The Flying Tunizianis in The Big Apple Circus (Photo: Maike Shulz)
What’s old is new again at The Big Apple Circus as the 40th anniversary of the European-style troupe descends on New York City. Founded by Paul Binder and Michael Christensen in 1977, the duo aimed to capture the intimacy of the one-ring circuses prevalent throughout Europe.
The tides shifted over the years, though, and in 2016 the circus declared bankruptcy. Acquired by BigTop Works shortly thereafter, the circus returns to Lincoln Center this holiday season as a charming throwback with timeless wonder.
In the age of Cirque du Soleil and high-tech advancements, The Big Apple Circus is refreshing in its simplicity: One ring, a ringmaster (a fairly dull but handsome Tyron “Ty” McFarlan), and a roster of acts that spin, summersault, and otherwise defy gravity. The two-hour show features an eight-piece live band and no audience member is more than 50 feet from the ring, putting you at what feels like arm’s reach from the action.
Highlights include The Wallendas seven-person pyramid. Dating back to 1947, this aerial feat has been a long-standing tradition (though temporarily retired in 1962 after a tragic accident in Detroit). Nik Wallenda and his troupe carry on the tradition and it’s truly spectacular to witness.
Other standouts include Venezuelan juggler Gamal Garcia Tuniziani, whose spitfire juggling act moves at the speed of light. The Anastasini Brothers (Giuliano and Fabio) are ninth generation circus performers and their “Icarian” act is an exercise in strength, balance and speed. The crowd ooh’d and ahh’d at animal trainer Jenny Vidbel’s horse and dog act. Eighteen ponies and horses paraded the perimeter of the ring, while her rescue dogs jumped through hoops and bedazzled young viewers with their agility. Retired animals spend their time on the family farm in the Catskills – we should all have such a retirement plan!
No circus is complete without a clown act, and The Big Apple Circus has brought back Grandma (Barry Lubin) for guffaws and giggles. His comedic timing captivated the audience, proving that he’s well deserved of his International Clown Hall of Fame and International Circus Hall of Fame awards.
The Big Apple Circus exudes a warm, inviting energy—far different than the calculated spectacles of its competitors. I hope that it reclaims its place in the entertainment market. Cirque du Soleil has dominated the modern circus, particularly over the past 25 years, but the endearing, personal style of a smaller European-style circus is its own special brand of entertainment.
And while each of the acts delivered the goods, nothing could top the audience reactions (both young and old), captivated by the magic of a night at the circus.
The Big Apple Circus
Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, NYC
Through January 7, 2018
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @wexlerwrites.