Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 29, 2017

Circus 1903-The Golden Age of Circus

The Bushnell, Hartford CT
through April 30. 2017

Lucky Moon (Elena Gatilova)
The grand traditions of circus art are alive and well in "Circus1903-The Golden Age of Circus" a theatrical experience being staged at the Bushnell. Mortensen Hall, usually the setting for musicals, plays or concerts now adds “big top” to its list of magical transformations. For this truly is a circus, albeit one where the audience’s appreciation of the strength and physical mastery of the performers is amplified and pushes you to the edge of the seats. Seeing contortionists, acrobats, and jugglers in this more intimate space is an experience not to be missed.

The producers of "The Illusionists" (another thrilling “out of the box” show that the Bushnell has hosted) have given the circus an "HD" upgrade, with gorgeous lighting, propulsive music and beautiful costuming. But none of these trappings would be effective were it not for the depth of talent and artistry on display.

Many of the acts literally defy description but are wondrous to behold. Not only youngsters, but adults, teens and tweens all found something to be captivated by in this fast paced display. Acts with names like “Les Incredibles” (aerial cradle), “The Great Gaston” (juggling), “Lucky Moon” (aerial ballet), and “The Elastic Dislocationist” (contortion) dazzle and delight, with agility, speed, strength, balance, and skill. Even the children of the audience get in on the act thanks to the “critter wrangling” of polished ringmaster Willy Whipsnade (Davis Williamson).

To truly invoke the circus of yore, one needs an animal act and it is here that “Circus” displays some true stage magic. “Quennie” and “Peanut” are elephants, portrayed by skilled puppeteers using life-size puppets crafted by the designers of “War Horse.” When they first appear on stage, all disbelief is suspended and by those under a certain age, the illusion never dissipates.

Somewhat ironically, the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus is playing at this same time in Hartford at the XL Center. While the passing of a 146 year old tradition can be disheartening, it is comforting to know that the special human talents that are so unique to the circus have found a new home for a new age.

The show is absolute fun for the whole family so if you cannot catch the circus before it leaves town, look for it at a “big top” near you.