One of my favorite childhood memories is when the circus came to the small Kansas town where I grew up. They showed up out of nowhere; and within an hour, every kid in the neighborhood was transfixed, watching strangers create a colorful city on what had been an empty field. By sunset, the air was filled with anticipation and the scent of popcorn and funnel cakes; and like a dream, it was gone in the morning.
The Durham Performing Arts Center’s current presentation of Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus, directed by Neil Dorward, feels very much like one of those magic childhood nights where the world seems amazing and full of possibilities. The show begins with the Ringmaster, played by the whip-sharp David Williamson, taunting the crowd with popcorn and looking for his first child volunteer to play the rube for his sleight-of-hand tricks. The children chosen from the Sept. 26th opening-night crowd were fantastic — funny, charming, and so ridiculously cute — that I wondered if they were real spectators or part of the cast.
Circus 1903 is two hours of music, acrobatics, and comedic showmanship. In my opinion, it contains some of the best parts of the circus (acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, and daredevil performers) with none of the bad aspects (cruelty to animals and clowns). That is not to say that Circus 1903 is without animals. Queenie and Peanut, the ethereal full-sized elephant puppets created by Significant Object of London, are beautiful; and it’s worth the price of admission just to see this group of talented puppeteers.
Part Vaudeville and part Cirque du Soleil, Circus 1903 has something for everyone. I enjoyed the handsome Flying Finns, who performed aerial acrobatics on a teeterboard; but who doesn’t like handsome muscular men flying through the air?
There are things that will amaze you, and make you hold your breath too. A gymnast who balanced 40 feet in the air on what appeared to be Tinkertoys made me anxious; and I was shocked and amazed by the contortionist, Sanayet Assefa Amara, who I swear to you ran in a circle around Her.Own.Head! (You are not going to be able to picture it, you must see it!)
This show doesn’t have the extravagance of a lot of circus-themed productions, but I didn’t miss it. The period sets and lighting allow you to focus on the action. There is no “story” or plot; but since the real draw is the talented performers and witty banter, this is not an issue. If I had any complaint, it would be the lack of circus food. I would have enjoyed some popcorn and or cotton candy or even just the scent of it. It would have gone a long way into maintaining the illusion of a turn-of-the-century circus.
Instead, I enjoyed a $12 beer and a $5 cupcake (both excellent, by the way); but with gratuity, my beer and cupcake equaled the average yearly entertainment expenditure for a family in 1903! Talk about breaking the illusion!
Overall, in the opinion of this reviewer, Circus 1903 is a very good evening out. The audience participation and the “in-on-the-joke” tone of the Ringmaster David Williamson is perfect. I laughed and laughed at every silliness, just like I was a kid again. If you remember what it feels like to laugh like that (and especially if you don’t), you should get yourself and your whole family down to the Durham Performing Arts Center before Sunday, Oct. 1st, because the circus doesn’t stay in town forever.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 27th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/09/circus-1903-offers-fun-for-the-whole-family/; Sept. 27th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com review by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/circus-1903-makes-you-feel-like-a-kid-again/16977609/, Sept. 27th video preview by Lena Tillett: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/16977293/, and Sept. 19th preview by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/the-circus-rolls-into-durham-next-week/16947845/; Sept. 27th Raleigh, NC WTVD/ABC11.com video review by Mark Falgout: http://abc11.com/entertainment/a-different-kind-of-circus-now-playing-at-dpac/2456746/; Sept. 26th Durham, NC Still Being Molly interview with Maria Dominguez Pontigo, conducted by Molly Stilman: http://www.stillbeingmolly.com/2017/09/26/interview-maria-dominguez-pontigo-circus-1903/; and Sept. 20th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/circus-1903/Event?oid=8054032. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 26th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/09/circus-1903-will-recreate-acts-from-the-golden-age-of-circus-on-sept-26-oct-1-at-dpac/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents CIRCUS 1903: THE GOLDEN AGE OF CIRCUS at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28, 8 p.m. Sept. 29, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 30, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2204782.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
DPAC AGE RESTRICTION: “Please note that all guests require a ticket, regardless of age,” writes DPAC. “Children under the age of 5 are not allowed at this performance. Children must be able to sit quietly in their own seat without disturbing other guests. As a further courtesy to our guests, DPAC recommends one parent or chaperone for every one child in attendance.”
NOTE 1: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30th, performance.
Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus (2016 Canberra and 2017 Los Angeles, and New York old-time circus): http://www.circus1903.com/ (official website) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_1903 (Wikipedia).
Nicole Noel is a former U.S. Army journalist-turned-Technical Knowledge Manager, with a love for the arts. At age seven, she wrote her first story on the wall of her basement after being told the family might have to move: “There once was a girl named Nicole who had a dog named Rat and they lived in this house.” She liked the way that you could capture a moment in a sentence, and still does. These days Nicole lives with her daughter, and a dog named Buffy, in a house in Fuquay-Varina. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.