New York’s Times Square has been famously transformed in recent years, resurrected from its seedy mid-century decline into a virtual, well-scrubbed outdoor mall. For the next six weeks, visitors to Boston’s City Hall Plaza will be treated to some of the Big Apple’s traditionally less savory features, including petty thievery, dangerous obstacles, and the sweet smell of manure.
It’s all family-friendly, of course: This is the return of the Big Apple Circus, for 29 years an annual fixture on the City Hall bricks. The nonprofit troupe’s current show, “Luminocity,” was conceived as a romp through the “life, vitality, and excitement” of Times Square, from its dazzling eye candy to its vivid, sometimes treacherous bustle of human traffic.
Pierre Ginet provides some of the comedy as a flimflam man, picking the pockets of a hapless volunteer. At the Saturday afternoon show, the dad who gamely took the stage was a good sport about having his watch, wallet, and cellphone repeatedly plucked, and he laughed when his host produced a brassiere from inside his jacket. But even if he was fleeced, parents should come away feeling they’ve gotten their money’s worth from this multifaceted, well-paced show.
Established in the late 1970s, the Big Apple combines elements of the contemporary circus — interwoven storytelling, the poetic balancing feats of the AcroDuo — with familiar old-school acts including plate-spinning, a juggler (seven balls!), and a husband-and-wife high-wire team. For animal lovers, there’s an actual dog-and-pony show, a spirited display of choreographed cavorting led by trainer Jenny Vidbel. (The Big Apple makes a point of limiting its animal acts to domesticated creatures, not including the capybara that makes an appearance in a joke about the city’s historic rat problem.)
The show is emceed by the robust voice of John Kennedy Kane, a top-hatted, red-jacketed ringmaster who could double as the doorman at your tony New York hotel. The ring is designed to look and feel like the grand pageantry of Manhattan, with a live band partially obscured in back by neon billboards and green street signs. The band sets a variety of moods, from Arabian and Aeolian to AC/DC and Tommy Tutone.
Clown Rob Torres takes the spotlight standing on a mat like an oversized subway map. With his Gilligan hat and his Jerry Lewis gestures, he’s a recurring delight, venturing into the audience and toting an old Samsonite suitcase full of trick accessories.
The stunts are suitably impressive, including “free ladder” performer Daniel Cyr posing as a paint-spattered workman and the Dosov Troupe, a group of teeterboard acrobats who launch 30 feet in the air and land inches from the front rows. In their glittery, form-fitting purple costumes, they’re like cheerleaders on PEDs.
Equally awesome in the original sense of the word are the
AcroDuo, the hand-to-hand balancing tandem of Vitaly Prikhodko and Alexei Anikine. The angles they achieve using nothing but their (shirtless) bodies are startling. Who knew the human body could do that? Or that? At one point the smaller man somehow performed a perfect headstand on top of the bigger man with nothing touching but the napes of their necks.
The show begins and ends with the cast and crew scurrying around the ring, past guy wires and traffic barricades, like New Yorkers on their daily routines. Many wear the famous “I (Heart) NY” T-shirts.
All the buffing, primping, and disinfecting of Manhattan can’t hide the fact that a city of 8 million, one that prides itself on not sleeping, isn’t solely for the tourists. Credit the Big Apple Circus for bringing a kid-friendly vision of New York to Boston that combines some real-world street comedy with the wonder of looking up.James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.