2003-03-15 / Community

Barnum & Bailey Circus Truly ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’

Commentary By Howard Schwach

Barnum & Bailey Circus Truly 'The Greatest Show On Earth'

Commentary By Howard Schwach

The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus has, for more years that I can remember, been billed as "The Greatest Show On Earth."

While that designation is arguable, it is true that the 133rd edition of the show, which is just finishing up a run at the Nassau Coliseum and will open at Madison Square Garden on March 20, certainly seemed to my four-year-old grandson, Ryan, to fit that bill perfectly.

I had attended the circus at the old Madison Square Garden in my youth and have always looked at the event as kind of a mythic happening - more hype that entertainment.

To see it again in my dotage and to see it through the eyes of a toddler, however renews the wonder and the delight, if not the magic.

This is not your old circus.

First of all, those who come early can actually go down on the floor of the arena and interact with all sorts of circus denizens, from clowns and dancers to elephants and llamas.

Watch a young child spin a large yellow plate on his finger, assisted by a garishly dressed clown with a big red nose and it renews your own childhood wonder.

The largest group of kids of all ages on the floor prior to the show watched a large elephant with a paintbrush in its trunk paint a picture. That picture was given away at intermission to the lucky kid whose name was drawn out of a drum.

The Ringling Brothers Circus is actually two separate and distinct units. One tours the East Coast while the other tours the West Coast. They switch each year, so that the show is never the same two years in a row.

This year's East Coast show features Bello, who seems to be everywhere all of the time. He integrates the show, taking the time between acts as well as taking part in many of the center-ring antics.

The two-hour show features many of the traditional, tried and true high-wire and animal acts, but it has some spectacular new material as well.

The Globe of Death features a steel mesh globe about 15 feet in circumference. Six dirt bike riders spin inside the globe at 50 miles per hour. It is both an amazing and unusual act.

The finale of the show is the old "shoot the man out of a cannon," act with a new twist. The human cannonball is set on fire prior to being shot across the arena.

Go to the Greatest Show On Earth, but take a kid along. Watch the show through new, childlike eyes. It is the only way to fly.


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