After a bout with bankruptcy, the big top is back in business.
Big Apple Circus, a New York-based entertainment staple that’s visited Massachusetts annually across the past three decades, announced today that it will return to the Boston area this spring, with an April 7-May 6 stay under the Big Top at Assembly Row in Somerville.
In its 40th season, the circus will reaffirm its most iconic characteristics — among them an intimate one-ring approach that seats audiences within 50 feet of entertainers, a commitment to community outreach programs, and a no-wild-animals policy.
At the center of the circus this year are high-wire daredevils Nik Wallenda and the Fabulous Wallendas, executing a seven-person pyramid, and trapeze artists the Flying Tunizianis, performing the quadruple somersault. That both events will occur under the same big top is unprecedented in circus history, according to Big Apple.
Credit for the Big Apple’s survival is due to a clown-turned-surgeon. In 2017, Dr. Neil Kahanovitz, who midway through medical school performed in a comedy trampoline act and later as an aerialist, led a group of investors to rescue Big Apple Circus after it went under. The circus had been a staple in Boston for 29 years, mostly at City Hall Plaza, before last year’s season cancellation.
“With Ringling [Bros.] going out of business and going off the road, it really seemed like if we didn’t step in and try and save this incredible cultural gem, that the quality at that level of circus in America would disappear,” said Kahanovitz, now the chairman of the circus, speaking by phone Wednesday from Washington, D.C., where hours earlier he had watched as Wallenda walked between two buildings at National Harbor. The stunt was planned to kick off Big Apple’s 2018 season.
“Boston has always been the second home to the Big Apple Circus,” Kahanovitz said. “I can’t tell you how many phone calls we got wanting to know when the circus was coming back.”
The chairman links this enthusiasm to the same kind of communal catharsis that the circus has imparted for decades. “People in Boston, I think, have also come to look at the Big Apple Circus as their own tradition. In April, around Patriots Day, it’s something that families, for almost 30 years, have gotten used to.”
Kahanovitz said Big Apple’s near-death experience has brought it roaring back to life with unprecedented gusto.
“I think you will see the Big Apple Circus like you’ve never seen it before,” he said. “We have invested so much time, money, resources, into upgrading the production. We have Broadway designers who have done lighting and the costumes. We have some of the best circus acts in the world, today, that will be performing under the big top.”
Other highlights of the upcoming season include rollerskating duo Dandino & Luciana, contortionist Elayne Kramer, master juggler Gamal Garcia, acrobats the Anastasini Brothers, Jan Damm on the rola bola, ringmaster Ty McFarlan, and animal trainer Jenny Vidbel. Big Apple Circus will also continue its Circus of the Senses, a performance enhanced for audiences with disabilities that includes ASL interpretation, a Braille program book, and pre- and post- show touch experiences (April 11, 11 a.m.); audience members on the autism spectrum are invited to Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism, which offers lowered lights and sound levels as well as a professionally staffed “calming center” accessible throughout the show (April 8, noon).
Tickets for all shows can be purchased on www.Ticketmaster.com.Isaac Feldberg can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.