By Dawnell Smith
Daily News Correspondent
Read on for the full review, but since the "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" kid's night starts at 6 p.m. tonight, I thought I'd post a few comments from my kids, who saw the show last night.
My older boy described the show as "Awesome," and liked the clown guy best of all. "It was a little too short," he decided. "I could have watched more of everything."
His younger bro gave the show four stars, especially the aerials. "If you're okay with going to bed late, the show was the perfect length. If you want to go to bed early, it's too long."
How astute of him to notice. Sure enough, the show started at 7:30 p.m. and we got home at 9:45 p.m. "Jungle Fantasy" might not make the little ones rest easy, but it will surely make them dream of flight.
Check out the kid's night activities below.
Now here's my take.
Ditching old school circus seediness for over-the-top theatrical eye candy, "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" delivers a cascade of luxuriant costumes, dramatic lighting and physical deeds of wonder.
Contortionists bend around and upon each other as if limbs from the same exotic beast; strong men lift and hold themselves in astonishing arrays of rigidity and balance; and aerialists fling themselves over the stage with finesse, power and artistry.
What more can a kid with a hankering for cotton candy want?
Though not the Cirque du Soleil of lore, Cirque Productions and its creator, Neil Goldberg, do a fine job of finding talent from Russia, Mongolia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the United States, most from gymnastics teams and schools of acrobatics or the circus arts.
The Florida-based production company spares no expense at developing its fantasy concept either. Between the endlessly revolving display of animal headdresses and the intoxicatingly lush sets, the essence of the jungle pervades every act, scene and garment.
The show's highly stylized interpretation of the jungle makes costuming a breeze since anything and everything goes, from the amalgamation of odd animal garb in the song-driven act "Strange Things" to the hip-hop zeal of giraffe-inspired suits in "Balancing Giraffes" (an astounding act of balance and bravado by Vladimir Dovgan and Anatoliy Yeniy).
Which brings me to the highs and lows of the show. Judging from conversations heard at the end of the show, the audience left with a high level of "How do they do that?" wonderment.
Exactly how does Vladimir Dovgan control the metal wheel while riding, swirling, gyrating through the "Snake Roller?" How can Nazar Skladanyi juggle rings behind his back, between his legs, far over his head incessantly, almost perfectly in "Froggling?" And if the contorting lizards (Uranmandakh Amarsanaa, Buyankhishig Ganbaatar, Erdenesuvd Ganbaatar, Odgerel Oyunbaatar) taught yoga, how would you survive?
At the same time, the production suffers from its insistence on stringing together a loosely wrought narrative through unmemorable tunes sung by the lady bug lead, Julia Langley. The songs sound anything but wild. Sultry at times, maybe, but not particularly striking.
Jared Burnett as Soul Tree accompanies her on stage with his electric violin, lolling among the lesser creatures with white lipstick and no shirt. Whatever his skill as a musician, he's used more like a prop in this show.
Thankfully, jungle clown Marcello Balestracci dances, prances and does pratfalls when not performing acrobatics of his own, deftly bridging the show's big production gimmickry to the circus heart within. Good clean buffoonery outshines the show's many predictable antics and innuendos.
"Jungle Dreams" dishes out spectacle after spectacle, from two guys balancing on a plank poised on five cylinders to the black light accents on the peacock costumes; from the saturated colors and textures of the costumes and sets to the limberness, dexterity and brawn of the performers.
You won't find cotton candy at this circus, but you'll still get a sugar high for the eye.
"Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" continues at the Atwood Concert Hall on the following dates and times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 16 and 17; 8 p.m. Friday, April 18; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 19; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 20. Tickets cost $43.50 to $63.50 (www.centertix.net, 263-2787) or at the box office. Find out more about the show at www.cirqueproductions.com.
The muscle-bound, muscle-lithe performers of "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" will teach a few tricks during kid's night starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, in the lobby of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Activities include doing the hula hoop, juggling, dressing up in crazy animal heads and getting temporary tattoos. As an added bonus, you can get a half-price children's ticket for every full-priced adult ticket bought.