by Michael P Coleman
Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson tried to explain it to me. He told me last week that their show was “the greatest show on earth.” If that sounds like a tag line, it is. The circus has been using it for at least 40 years, as I remember it from my first trip to the circus, as a kid.
Sometimes, there’s actual truth in advertising. And that phrase is absolutely apt as I think about last night’s Sacramento opening of the circus’ new OUT OF THIS WORLD show.
“With this new show,” Iverson said, “we still have the world’s greatest menagerie — lions and tigers, rescue dogs, horses, donkeys, kangaroos, llamas, pigs…”
Let’s start with the pigs. As I grew up in Detroit, I didn’t know pigs were so big. I’m just sayin’. They’re big. Like “small car” big.
And let’s talk lions and tigers. That part of the show was one of the moments when I was afraid. Really afraid. I was certain that their trainer, Alexander, was going to get mauled for all to see. One of the cats, Susie, wasn’t in the best of moods last night and challenged Alexander more than a few times. I was frozen in my seat.
And let’s talk about another time I was terrified: those horsemen and women, riding quickly around a tight circle as they rotated over and under the galloping horses! They could have been trampled.
The trapeze artists! Yes, there was a net, but they were WAY up there!
Seven motorcyclists, riding their bikes inside a single small sphere! An accident waiting to happen! “Death defying” is the only way to sum it up.
And only Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey could bring a snowstorm and snowball fight to a Sacramento summer. The visuals were so realistic, I almost thought Sleep Train had bumped up the AC.
OUT OF THIS WORLD is a dizzying array of attractions that left me almost disoriented. I couldn’t figure out where to look, because there was something amazing going on everywhere.
And that was all before the intermission.
When I was sure they’d amazed us using every possible platform, two performers walked on the ceiling. Like “Lionel-Richie-walked-on-the-ceiling.” After I’d convinced myself that it was an illusion of some sort, perhaps a projection, they poured their drinks out of cups and onto the floor below. Then, they topped that: they moonwalked. Across. The. Ceiling. While playing Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” no less.
There was a basketball game — with the players on unicycles. People bouncing off of trampolines through hoops — on ice skates! Jaws even showed up! Yes, Jaws the shark, along with the classic John Williams theme! And ONLY Ringling Bros could set fire to ice.
There’s a fun narrative to the show to keep the little kids entertained. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s nothing too scary, there are recurring clowns to help keep things light, and, as in any good narrative, it all turns out fine in the end.
Just this week, I wistfully said goodbye to the NBC summer program America’s Got Talent. I’d come to believe that the sometimes-thrilling program is the closest we have to circus-type entertainment. But let me tell you: I don’t care how big your flat screen is, or how high its definition is, you have NEVER seen anything like OUT OF THIS WORLD.
My new friend Iverson was right — as have been the generations of circus folks that have proceeded him: it’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. Go, and take your family. Go!
Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey’s OUT OF THIS WORLD is at Sleep Train Arena through September 18.