THE CIRCUS IS BACK IN TOWN-SORT OF!

Upon the slogging of emails I receive each week that consist of press releases and other notices of events and happenings that the sender(s) are making sure that I am fully aware of their notices, I recently came across a notice from the folks from Feld Entertainment, the company that produces many of the stage and ice shows that use the Disney characters and related Intellectual properties (or “IP” for short), as well as their most iconic brand, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® circus, also known as the registered trademark, The Greatest Show on Earth, stated that their circus that was shut down a few years ago, is making its return–but not in the same method as it once was known by.

The release stated that they will be returning in the fall of 2023 with a program that will feature most of what the circus was known for with teams of acrobats and related death-defining tracks. One will assume that clowns will also make their returns and they are just as part of the line up associated with a circus. What won’t return will be the animal acts from lions, tigers, and perhaps bears. (Insert your own exclamation here). And the three rings won’t be back as well.

As with these high tech times, Feld Entertainment did list a link to their YouTube Channel with a nearly two minute piece that states their new arrival that can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nM9h-pf0AUs

It’s a mixed reaction by this writer on this return by the event self billed as a return of an American icon for many reasons. First and foremost, the reasons why Feld Entertainment placed the Ringling Bros circus to its end came from various sources. Those sources range from protests and concerns from animal rights groups stating that some of the animals, elephants mostly, were not treated properly, even having people from these groups attending the fonts of stadiums passing out flyers and related materials to those attending the circus. Other sources state that the circus doesn’t hold the same appeal to post-modern families and regard domestic broods that the circus is catering to. A few sources note that going out to the circus is rather pricey for what they are. And the list goes on from there.

Of course, the Pandemic had nothing to do with the end of Ringling Bros since its final season was in 2018. However, if Ringling Bros. did try to reach its 150th Anniversary in 2020, that season would have been shut down. But Feld beat the pandemic in its own game and closed on their own verses through distress.

This isn’t the first time that Ringing Bros tried to change their ways. A few years ago, they had a touring company that attempted to mimic their show in the same fashion as Cirque du Soleil. But that only came with limited success. And from what this writer has seen in their promo reel through their YouTube channel, it may return toward those roots, but perhaps not as “new age-y” as the former attempt. Still, it will be another event in its wait-and-see methods of operations.

Yours truly has attended a number of the Ringling Bros. Shows in the past, either appearing in Los Angeles at The Forum, or at the stadium once known as The Staples Center. Long before that, I attended the shows that came through Chicago in the 1970’s. My first show was its grand 100th Anniversary tour back in 1970. It has just about everything one would expect in a circus, along with its animal acts. There were elephants of plenty, including its grand finale where an elephant carried out what looked like a log dressed as a giant candle. In the center of the arena, a structure resembling a birthday cake was in its center. The elephant, along with an elephant driver, had the rest of the team of elephants facing the “cake” in a circle. The lead elephant, perhaps the biggest one of the bunch, carried the log/candle toward the cake, placing the candle on top in its center. Then a shower of sparkles shot up from its tip that lit the entire stadium. It was remarkable to see this, especially for a kid like myself. I even still have the oversized program that Ringing Bros. sold for a dollar that was splashed with photos of all of the acts present, along with the ads that came with it. That program is stashed away within my archives somewhere!

I did see a few other shows around the time where it took up a month-long residency at the old Chicago Stadium when it came to town around October, right before the NBA and NHL seasons would begin. After that, my family had other things to do when it came to entertainment, and the circus wasn’t part of that schedule, if such a schedule would even continue. But it was nice to return in the early 2000s to see such a show, even if I was there as a journalist rather than a kid that only previously viewed the Ringling Bros. Circus through a series of special one-time only events on TV. (CBS would air these TV specials at the start of their season using Roy Rogers and Dale Evens as its hosts.)

So for those that are interested in the circus, either as adults or those with kids in tow, this upcoming “greatest show” may be a thing to take advantage of. In this day and age of remakes/reboots/reinventions/restaging/reentries/re(fill-in-the-black), Ringling Bros. Would be ripe for its “second act”. It could be enough to run away from home to join up with. If one does, at least you won’t start off with taking a push broom to follow the pachyderms with. (Hey, ya gotta start somewhere y’know!)

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The Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum of Topanga continues its 2022 repertory season with Ernest Thompson’s THE WEST SIDE WALTZ, a drama about a widowed one time concert pianist living alone in her apartment on New York’s upper west side, her alliance with her violinist neighbor, and the young household companion who moves in for a lengthily stay.

Ellen Geer portrays Margaret Mary Elderdice, who once graced the classical concert stages with her piano work. Melora Marshall is Cara Varnum, who unofficially looks after Margaret Mary and stops over for their impromptu concert performing simple classical pieces for piano and violin. Although Margaret appreciates Cara’s coming over to play music, she feels that she needs someone else to do some light housekeeping as well as keeping her company. She places a local ad for such a person that is answered by Robin Bird. (Willow Geer). Robin is a budding actress seeking her big break. Although she’s young enough to be Margaret’s daughter, she’s had some hard experience within life with a marriage that failed, taking upon menial jobs between possible acting gigs as well as holding concerned with a social issue that was making its mark in society. And adding to this mix is Margaret’s “super” Serge (Miguel Perez), a devoted and hard working immigrant who’s ready to fix whatever is going wrong within the apartment.

This play written by Ernest Thompson first appeared on Broadway in 1981 featuring Katherine Hepburn in the leading role. It dealt with a few issues that were going on at the time of the play’s first production, mostly notably the AIDS crisis that was not well understood, let alone “accepted” at the time. In fact, the playwright revised this play that makes its “world premier” appearance on the Theatricum stage that changes some of the notations first expressed back then to fit the tastes and acknowledgments for a post-modern audience. Even though those former elements are not depicted in this production, its middle 1980’s-era flavor remains thanks to Beth Eslick’s costuming and John Eslick’s prop mastery. Margaret’s character dresses herself as an “old maid” not going with the times, and Robin’s character don herself with gear as something that stepped out of an MTV aspect. And Margaret’s apartment appears that it hasn’t been decorated since the 1940’s loaded with antiques that were even outdated way back then!

Mary Jo DePery directs this production as a play that shows three generations of women that get along with one another for a while, only to branch out toward other directions for their own good and well being–the same elements that does occur in “real life” in alliance with a staged version of what real life is all about. And this play depicts that the world, or at least the area Margaret and company live in as their world, is getting worse before it gets better. It shows that the so-called “good old days” of then weren’t as recalled as good compared to the things existing in the early 21st Century. It just has different meanings, names, and features.

Also appearing within the cast is Charles Lin as Glen Darson, an attorney who assists immigrants to become American citizens and to become part of the American dream that was quite possible to reach.

This production presented at the Theatricum Botanicum showcases the family Geer at its finest. Ellen Geer is the daughter of the theater’s namesake Will Geer. Melora Marshall is Ellen’s sibling sister, and Willow Geer is Ellen’s daughter. These trio of performers leave their mark in keeping the Geer name alive and living within the sphere of performing, either on the stage or screen. Very few families can’t even come close to those credentials!

THE WEST SIDE WALTZ, presented by and performs at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. Topanga, until October 1st. Showtimes are July 2nd, 10th, 17th, 24th, 29th, August 6th, 12th, 21st, 27th, September 3rd, 18th, 23rd, and October 1st at 7:30 PM, and special matinee performance on Sunday, September 11th at 3:30 PM.

For ticket reservations and for further information, call (310) 455-3723 or via online at http://www.theatricum.com

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ELVIS (Warner Bros.) is a biographical feature about a guitar playing country boy from Tupelo, Mississippi who later became the “King of Rock ‘n Roll”.

Austin Robert Butler is featured as Elvis Aaron Presley, a boy from Tupelo, Mississippi who had a unique musical talent. He could sing, play the guitar, and move his hips a lot! But there is a story behind this boy who later grew up to become a legend. In fact, the story is told and narrated through the perspective of his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) who gives credit for discovering this boy, and groomed him to become the named member of royalty of Rock ‘N Roll music.

This bio pic isn’t just another feature about a country boy that became the said legion of his own time and long after his untimely passing at the ripe age of forty-two. It’s a feature that resembles a roller coaster ride set in an ultra modern theme park. There are a lot of special effects (yes..special effects) that take the movie viewer on this journey from the backwaters of Tupelo to the big town of Memphis to Las Vegas and all points in between. The story and its visuals as directed by Baz Luhrmann is done in classic Baz Luhrmann style in terms of visual and surreal means that just won’t quit! Even though Elvis caters to mostly the demographic known as the “Baby Boomers”, the sensory this movie presents itself is geared to “Gen Zers” and perhaps “Millenniums” that were yet to be born when Elvis was making his mark in music.

Butler as Elvis holds much of the mannerisms as the title man, especially in his younger years. Hanks as Parker displays his character where he swaggers as a country businessman speaking in an accent that resembles southern gentleman with a European twist. That is because Parker didn’t come from the hills of West Virginia, but from Holland! (Spoiler alert?) That is fitting for Hanks as his role in movies of late is to play different characters. And portraying Parker isn’t any different as to his previous roles playing Fred Rogers or Walt Disney.  

The screenplay by Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner, and Baz Luhrmann with story by Doner and Luhrmann takes some creative liberty to what was actually true about Elvis, Tom Parker, and those around him. And how those times were depicted give the same liberty to how it actually was back then to what the feature says how it was. And with some notion to other films about the life and times of the big “E” that has been released within the last forty five years from the TV Movie Elvis released in 1979, or the 1981 documentary This Is Elvis, there are many episodes of mild hokeyness added for entertainment’s sake. But this isn’t a “real” documentary, It’s the kinda-sorta true story of Elvis. (This reviewer won’t add some of his feature films to the list of tacky versions of Elvis as those movies stand on their own merit for better or for worse!)

Besides Hanks and Butler, there are others featured in this flick. Most notably, Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla, the only woman Elvis has been with who he actually married, and remained that way until his untimely death in the summer of 1977–the day for some was when the music died!

For a running time of two and a half hours, this movie is not to be taken seriously as that makes it more fun than sober dramatic. And unlike the other blockbusters out there that are loaded with action, gunfire, explosions, and CGI effects, this title is only loaded with the visual effects. Also, there is a lot of music heard on its soundtrack (many of those tunes played as distorted within their own unique methods) from the 1950’s to the 70’s that consist of country, rhythm and blues, and of course, Elvis material!

It was high time that a theatrical movie about Elvis would ever be attempted. So here it is! And as the King himself would say long before he leaves the building, “Thunka-Thunka-Thunka-Very Much!”

PS…This was the movie that Tom Hanks was working on when he received a case of the virus known as Covid-19 while in Australia that delayed production for a brief while. But as his fans became aware through the social media portals, he eventually recovered!

ELVIS is rated “PG-13” for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material, and smoking as noted by the MPA. Now playing in theaters nationwide.

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Next week, Accessibly Live Off-Line will present its annual State of the Union Address. Don’t miss it!

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