Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy @ Broadway Theatre, New York

created and directed by
Neil Goldberg
Though not affiliated with the famous Cirque du Soleil, who quibbled – and lost – over their right to exclusively use the word ‘cirque’, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy is a fun, family-friendly human circus show, entertaining in its own right.

Though they may have won the toss in terms of naming, the creators know that the Cirque du Soleil people have set the bar very high for this type of show, so with this production, they set out to awe and impress. Subtle it isn’t. The set, a sinuous rainforest creation, curves and twists organically from the floor, establishing the tone for the show to come. The costumes (by Lenora Taylor and Santiago Rojo) are meant to suggest jungle animals, but if a trade off is ever called for between reality and fantasy, you should count on the feathers, neon colors and sequins winning out. Here I must make a confession: like a magpie, I am attracted to the bright and sparkly, the shiny and spangly, and I found the overblown, colourful look of the piece, the sets and costumes, really appealing, and I had plenty of company in the audience.

Furthermore, the costumes served the ancillary purpose of distraction, in the best sense. The show’s producers acknowledge that not all acts are a hit with all audience members. Kids get bored, some people find contortionists creepy (really, they kind of scare me), and, whatever the cause, nothing kills the mood of awe like the person next to you squirming in their seats. So, during nearly all the acts, there is some kind of other activity occurring on the stage, nothing too distracting, but still entertaining. (More than once I appreciated the giant bumble bees playing the in the background).

The term ‘plot’ is overstating things here, but the show follows the story of an Adventurer, as the figure of Mother Nature shows him the wonder of the animals in the forest. As the Adventurer, Marcello Balestracci does an amazing job, his friendly manner endeared him to the younger members of the audience (while his abs endeared him to certain, older segments of the audience). As the show progress, his athleticism and grace seemed to grow more impressive while his joy and wonder also intensified, serving to draw the audience into this fantasy world.

This is, in many ways, a traditional circus show. The acts were often familiar, but were done well. It opened with a jump rope set piece, which was both impressive, and immediately connected with the children in the audience: this is something you could do one day, it seemed to say. This was followed by aerialists, balancing acts, human building blocks and more. Uniformly the performers seemed to be having fun. In shows of this nature, the performers often want the act to seem effortless, which can often come across as their being blas, but the performers in Jungle Fantasy displayed a sense of fun as well as one of technical accomplishment, and the mood it created was pretty infectious.

That said, there were a few jarring moments. Unintentionally funny were the Jungle Kings, an acrobatic troop of Russian men semi-dressed as lions. Their feats of strength were impressive, but the set up for each new human tableau swerved between camp and bad gay porn (gurr!). And while Mother Nature served very ably as a singing ringmaster, she was saddled with lyrics that were both repetitive and overly literal.

One of the performers, dressed as a creature that was half pine tree and half bodybuilder, wandered in and out of the scenes playing a six-string electric violin, with a scowling face and menacing demeanor. His presence seemed very out of place, and potentially frightening for the younger members of the audience.

However those were minor complaints in the big scheme of things: Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy will be a big summer hit with families with children and will appeal to fans of human circus too. What’s more, it contains sufficient thrills and invention to keep non-fans of the genre entertained and amused too.

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