Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus may be shuttering its big top after 146 years in business, but there very well may be a new “Greatest Show On Earth” popping up in its place. “Circus 1903- The Golden Age Of Circus” came to Chicago’s ornate Oriental Theatre for the very first time, and though the spirit of the last century clearly reigns supreme, the show also evolves in step with the likes of Cirque du Soleil, complete with major production, puppetry and even the occasional reference to “Frozen,” Lady Gaga and a comment about people being a whole lot less litigious back in those days.
“Circus 1903” is naturally just as heavy on unbelievable spectacles of extreme artistry, athleticism and choreography from a wide-range of entertainers, many of whom have ancestry to their various disciplines dating back several generations.
Rather than opening with a sense-stimulating bang, the evening of variety gently unfolds with some comedy from Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade (David Williamson), who tosses popcorn into the crowd and lets the audience participate in a handful of gags. Though his jokes and magic tricks are a major and treasured part of the presentation, chances are the main reason circus fans and Broadway enthusiasts are eying this undertaking are the stunts themselves.
“Circus 1903” is naturally just as heavy on unbelievable spectacles of extreme artistry, athleticism and choreography from a wide-range of entertainers, many of whom have ancestry to their various disciplines dating back several generations. Runaway highlights include a lightning-quick standard juggler named The Great Gaston (Francois Borie), literal body jugglers Fratelli Rossi (Alejandro and Ricardo Rossi), The Cycling Cyclone (Florian Blummel), agile acrobat team The Flying Fins (Artur Ivankovich, Petter Vastermark and AJ Saltalamacchia), the awe-inspiring aerialist Lucky Moon (Lena Gatilova) and a seemingly unreal contortionist called The Elastic Dislocationist (Senayet Asefa Amare).
Along the lines of “War Horse” or “The Lion King,” a pair of virtual elephants are controlled by several human puppeteers (some of whom are hidden and others visible), ensuring no harm to living animals, while still possessing all the joy and wonder usually conjured up by the real deal. Plus, no circus would be complete without at least one major death-defying stunt and the family act Los Lopez fit that bill with a tightrope routine that’s likely to have all the kids and really anyone who’s young at heart on their feet by the hair-raising finale.