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Review: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey "Fully Charged"

Categories: EntertainmentOpinion

June 22, 2011

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus 'Fully Charged'
I had only been to a circus once - as a young boy.  We had front row seats.  But strangely, the only thing I remember was a clown who came up to me with a measuring tape and started measuring my head and torso.  You would think "the greatest show on earth" would have been more memorable.

Fast forward to 2011:  My daughter, who grew up in Russia, had never been to a circus, and had wanted to go.  There were several circuses that had visited Las Vegas over the past year, but I never really made the effort to take her.  I generally oppose any act that incorporates animals.

"They're not abused," my mother argued.  "They're very well cared for.""

Sorry, but whether it's a parakeet or a pachyderm, I believe confinement is itself abusive.

My daughter, not knowing Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was the biggest circus in the world, specifically asked if we could go to Fully Charged.  And what do I tell her - that I won't take her because of my personal beliefs?  Since we had missed the opportunity to visit other circuses, we didn't want to pass up this chance.

Our evening started out well.  We were on time, which is always a good start.  The circus was held inside the Thomas and Mack Center on the University of Nevada - Las Vegas (UNLV) campus.  Parking was close and free, and getting in and out was too easy.  But as we entered the grounds, we saw a group of protestors.  I had to explain to my daughter the opposition on the grounds of animal rights some people, including me, have to circuses.

Once past that and inside, we stopped to buy some hot dogs (excellent all-beef!), peanuts (in the shell, of course), drinks, etc., and found our way to our very good fourth row seats considering the $33 price (each).

I noticed immediately that Ringling intended to entertain even before the show started.  There were many clowns scattered around the three-ring floor doing the various things clowns do.  This pre-show entertainment was a precursor to the non-stop entertainment that continued throughout the show.  Ringling didn't waste a second at any point - there was always something going on.  Often there was too much.  It was difficult to watch, enjoy, and appreciate the numerous clowns, acrobats, etc. that filled what would have been voids between the main acts.  But too much is certainly better than too little.

The show started with the introduction of the ringmaster, Brian Crawford Scott, who reminded me of actor Jim Carrey.  He was a competent ringmaster - a little younger than I would have expected.  His many costumes were far more spectacular than the red tails and top hat of the past.  And just like "bevertainers" (beverage servers who double as entertainers), this ringmaster is much more than an announcer.  He sings - something I've never heard a ringmaster do.  Unfortunately, the sound system and the acoustics in the Thomas and Mack made it difficult to understand many of the lyrics.  But (as if the Jim Carrey resemblance wasn't enough) there was something else about him, and the other performers, that annoyed me, which I'll get to a little later.

I won't go through all the acts here.  But I will separate the animal acts from the non-animal acts.  The first to enter the arena were the elephants.  They were big and beautiful.  They appeared healthy and well-cared for.  They did tricks - sit, lie down, stand, etc.  But I couldn't get past that feeling that wild animals should not be confined, so I didn't enjoy this act much.

The horses act was even worse.  At one point we noticed that a teenaged girl sitting near us was crying.  We heard that she was crying for the animals.  We wanted to cry with her, and inside, I think we all did.  The horses wore harnesses that kept their heads pulled down.  There were twelve horses in one ring, eight in another, and four zebras in the third.  They did little more than run around in circles - no riders.  Not at all impressive.

Then came the big cage.  We knew something exciting would happen inside the cage.  Lions?  Tigers?  After some anticipation, animal trainer Tabayara "Taba" Maluenda's act consisted of 13 of the most beautiful tigers, some white, I've ever seen.  Roy Horn would have been proud.  But they were 13 confined tigers, prodded and whipped to stand up, lie down, roll over, and do other silly tricks in Ringling's effort to impress humans.  I wasn't entertained, but I did enjoy seeing such beautiful cats.

The most impressive act, in my opinion, was the Negrey Troupe, a group of high-power acrobatics..."performing a surge of cartwheels, handsprings, back flips, and tucks."  "These seven young men and woman, all hailing from Russia and the Ukraine, perform amazing feats of strength and athleticism on an incredible 80 foot long...'tumble track'".

The Tianyicheng Troupe consisted of "bounce stilts" which were fun and entertaining, but I have mixed feelings about this act, and others like it.

When I was young, I had the opportunity to see the Harlem Globetrotters, including Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, and others.  The Globetrotters were at the height of their fame, and Meadowlark was known for his half court, sideline hook shot.  He never missed - at least, not on television where I had seen him before.  But at the live game, things are often a bit different.  He took the ball, went to the sideline, set himself up, and let loose.  The ball flew in a high arc, hit the rim, and bounced away, stunning the audience who expected it to go in.  I was stunned as well.  This was Meadowlark Lemon - he never misses that shot!  But he did that day.  He took the ball again, set it up, and "swish".  That was what we had paid to see!  The point is that I recognize that there are occasional misses in the performing arts.

But what has bothered me for years are the countless skateboarders, bicyclists, etc. who try and try and try and try to successfully complete a trick, only to display failure after failure.  Eventually they make the trick, and they take great pride in the fact that they did it once out of 100 attempts.  I'm not impressed with that success rate.  Lemon missed once out of a hundred attempts.  I can accept that.

So the Tianyicheng Troupe thought it would be fun to do some slam dunks on the bounce stilts - flexible devices that allow them to jump to astonishing heights.  Some of the dunks involved multiple bounces and passes to other teammates, the last of which would actually slam the ball down the hoop.  But something went wrong - a bad bounce, a bad pass.  The ball got lost and the whole scene lost its impact.  Was this one miss out of a hundred?  I may never know.  But it reminded me of the thousands of skateboard misses we've all witnessed over the past decade or two.

Other notable acts:

The Yakubov Troupe - Timur Yakubov and his amazing troupe of aerial acrobats from Kazakhstan, China, and Uzbekistan

Brian Miser - After igniting, 'The Human Fuse' launches himself from his self-made crossbow, arcs through the air above the arena floor at nearly 65 miles per hour, and nails a landing on the airbag at the other end of the arena!  Okay, this is the classic shot-from-a-cannon routine, but when he's unexpectedly fully-engulfed (oh, did I give it away?) and he pinpoints the target, it's fun to watch.

Fernandez Brothers - Wheels of Steel - Reminiscent of clockwork, the Fernandez Brothers, Guillermo and Alberto.  Unfortunately at our show, only one of them performed.

Danguir Troupe - Ringling veteran Mostafa Danguir, brother Abdelhak, wife Elena Escalera Mascias, Anna Lebedeva, and a fifth unnamed artist, perform the classic high wire routine.

Not-so-notable acts:

Russian strongmen Dmitriy and Ruslan are very, very strong, yes, what?

Alimgulov Troupe - Comedy Bouncing Big Bike.  The performers here were very talented and amusing, but that's not enough to keep me coming back for more.

Fusco Brothers - Emiliano and Maximiliano Fusco are probably among the best jugglers, but you've seen one good juggler, you've seen 'em all.

Two of the most impressive acts in the show weren't really acts at all.  First, were the very talented musicians in the live band.  Even more impressive were the members of the poop crew.  These are the guys and gals who immediately spread sawdust on the floor behind the elephants, horses, and other animals that feel the urge to relieve themselves during the show, then quickly shovel it all up before the next act comes out.  You may think I'm joking about this, but these people managed to maneuver very quickly around the animals and performers as they performed.  They got the job done well without getting in the way, and they probably don't get nearly the credit they deserve.  Okay, they may not want credit for this job, but I'll just say they did their jobs very well.

Finally, I have to mention the most annoying element of this circus.  It's good that the circus has been updated somewhat with lights, improved costumes, dancers, fireworks, sound effects, etc.  But during so much of the performance, especially while ringmaster Scott was singing, I was reminded far too much of Disneyland.  "The happiest place on earth" is fun...the first time, and maybe the second.  But when you live there, and you're kinda forced to go everytime a friend or relative visits from out-of-town, the music, costumes, and choreography start to get on your nerves.  After a while, you learn that Disney is all fake, all fraud.  The entertainers' smiles are plastic.  Yes, I guess I'm a little jaded.  But if that Disney-style happy dance leaves a bad taste in your mouth, there's good chance Fully Charged will, too.

The bottom line: Is Fully Charged worth seeing?  Yes, I would say, if you take your children, let them enjoy it (and enjoy it with them), and realize that it's an experience - not necessariy a good one at all times, but one that is worth the price of admission.

User Comments:
Jonas - Oct 19, 2011 07:22:12 — It just occurred to me that I jumped from animal rights to excellent all-beef hot dogs.  "Hypocrite!", you say.  For the record, God put animals on the planet for us to eat.  "Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you." —Genesis 9:3.  To  ...more
blah blah - Aug 6, 2012 01:36:28 — Saw Fully Charged with my gf in Dallas. Overall, I was not impressed. Things got off to a bad start when radio commercials got us googly-eyed over seeing the circus for only $15/ticket. We ended up paying $90, just for tickets, just for two people. $15 tickets were in the nosebleed section, and a ...more
blah blah - Aug 6, 2012 01:56:01 — Side note, the spring-shoe troupe that did the basketball routine ... they did miss a shot during our performance, too. In fact, one guy was running up to make a dunk, then just side-stepped and didn't bother. Eventually, when teh act ended, the lights dimmed and you could see one of them off to t ...more
Jonas - Aug 6, 2012 02:40:52 — Thanks for taking the time to write. Yeah, the circus ain't what it used to be. Cirque du Soleil was a great concept. It was very creative, and they had/have some excellent performers. And taking the animals out was obviously a great move. But, IMHO, they started stretching it with Zumanity and ...more

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