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Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy (Review)

Expect an evening of fantastic visual entertainment

By Rick Pender · April 1st, 2009 · Onstage

Critic's Pick

Don’t let the name of this production lead you to believe you’re going to see a production by Cirque du Soleil. The producers of this touring stage show certainly want audiences to make that connection, and by and large it’s justified. But they are capitalizing on a brand that’s not theirs.

Nonetheless, if you’ve ever enjoyed a performance by a Cirque du Soleil company, you’ll be very satisfied by Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy. It’s two hours of colorful showmanship and costumes, full of amazing acts of physical skill — aerial acts, tumblers, jugglers, gymnasts, contortionists and more — with a delightful dash of whimsy and humor.

While many of the cast of 25 are from around the world (several of them list the Mongolian State School of Contortion among their credits), it’s made very approachable by an “Adventurer” played by American performer Marcello Balestracci (who looks for all the world like Matt LeBlanc, who played Joey on the TV series Friends). At first he seems to be a kind of everyman, wandering dazed among the many performers.

But we gradually see that he’s one of the most versatile acrobats onstage. He’s not always as skilled at specific forms of gymnastics, but certainly adept at almost everything from spectacular jump-rope feats to spinning a giant cube of plastic piping so rapidly that it blurs. He’s also an animated comic who’s fun to watch.

The music for Cirque Dreams is the New Age syrup you’d expect, sung by “Mother Nature,” played by Amanda Restivo in the airy, soprano style of Enya. Her voice had a lovely sound but the lyrics were often swamped by the pre-recorded electronic music track. (When you could hear them, they were kind of silly anyway, with titles like “You Can Grow, Too” and “How Do You Feel.”) Tall and beefy Jared Burnett is onstage most of the show to provide accompaniment as “Soultree Violinist,” and Andrey Averyushkin offers live percussion, including an astounding combination of bouncing balls that he juggles as part of his musical accompaniment.

But the real entertainment is from the amazing gymnasts, acrobats and more. Something as simple as jumping rope becomes fascinating and breathtaking. Several aerial acts involve amazing exhibitions of strength and balance. I was especially impressed with the “Balancing Giraffes” and the “Jungle Kings.” The former are two men who work together on a board balanced on a piece of round pipe. They stack multiple platforms and climb to four levels above the board; even more amazingly, they pile several pieces of round pipe crosswise and then climb on top without falling. The “Kings” are three strong men who perform incredible acts of leverage and balance.

This production has reportedly been doing sold-out business in several American cities, and opening night at the Aronoff Center on March 31 was no exception: Most of the seats were filled, and there were lots of children in the audience. It’s a great show for the entire family, but I suspect people will enjoy it whether or not they bring the kids. Just don’t go home and try these stunts — unless you’re a graduate of the Mongolian State School of Contortion.

CIRQUE DREAMS JUNGLE FANTASY, presented by Broadway Across America at the Aronoff Center, continues through April 12. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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