Friday, June 27, 2008

Cirque Critiques: Dreamy Or Nightmares?

Cirque Critiques: Dreamy Or Night-mares?

Last evening, Neil Goldberg's Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy opened at Rialto's Broadway Theatre. Not to be confused with Cirque du Soleil, this limited run production features choreography from Tara Jeanne Vallee and a company of acrobats, aerialists, contortionists, jugglers and musicians.

Critics offered middling reviews overall.

Calling the show "harmless fun (that) should prove catnip to the hordes of entertainment-starved family tourists who invade Manhattan every summer," New York Post's Frank Scheck's two-and-a-half star review compares with Cirque du Soleil: "[Y]ou'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart. Like its Canadian rival, this Cirque -- while it lacks the imagination of Soleil -- boasts dazzling circus acts in a highly theatrical presentation replete with elaborate scenery and wall-to-wall music.... Accompanying them is the by-now obligatory New Age-style musical score, most of it pre-recorded except for the overly frequent vocalizing of Mother Nature (Jill Diane) and the live violin playing of Soultree (Jared Burnett), a shirtless artist who clearly spends as much time doing abdominal crunches as he does practicing arpeggios."

Noting that this "finely polished production" is "not as overtly sexy or ambitiously arty" as Cirque du Soleil, Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News awards three out of five stars: "Jungle Fantasy has its own smiling, family-friendly vibe.... Goldberg keeps the action flowing and dynamic. There's always a lot to see. And hear. Though the disco-driven music is piped in -- worth noting and grousing about -- it's enhanced by three Americans.... For light summer entertainment, this is a Fantasy worth indulging."

Advising that Cirque Dreams is "ideally suited for children ages 6 to 12 with an advanced interest in either jungle fauna, gymnastics or sequins,"Charles Isherwood of The New York Times squarely lands his review on place in the middle: "...the production deploys its well-drilled army of aerialists, contortionists, jugglers and gymnasts around a slender vine of story.... I must admit that the fascination of this ensemble never palled for me. And it proved useful in distracting me from the songs Ms. Diane was singing, most of which featured lyrics (by Jill Winters) of wince-making inanity.... Tastefulness, obviously, is not among the pronounced assets of Cirque Dreams. But the show’s low-tech simplicity is endearing.... The acts are sometimes standard, sometimes inspired variations on acrobatics and aerial gymnastics, juggling and balancing and limb twisting. They are performed with the usual daredevil panache and ouch-that-must-kill elasticity by the assembled international hordes."

Deeming it a "two-hour spectacle, geared primarily toward children and patient parents," Bloomberg's John Simon takes aim at the "generic" nature of the show: "As created and directed by Neil Goldberg, Cirque Dreams' lacks the sophistication of Cirque du Soleil. Anyone who has seen the $165 million battle-adventure Ka or the Beatles-infused Love, both playing in custom-built theaters in Las Vegas, will be disappointed by this earthbound Cirque du Syosset. That said, the cast is able. The stunts, if you haven't seen them in other shows, are impressive. All cirques are not created equal, but Cirque Dreams does provide a mild, family-friendly diversion."

Proclaiming this show as "an all-natural way for kids to replicate Seth Rogen's mushroom-induced Cirque du Soleil freak-out in 'Knocked Up,'" Eric Grode of The New York Sun inevitably compares this troupe with its better known rival: "The main difference is a noticeable gap in musical quality. Cirque du Soleil has elevated its game musically of late, most notably with its Beatles-themed Love. But even its most banal New Agey noodlings compare favorably to the appalling Jungle Fantasy score by Jill Winter and a half-dozen co-writers. As Mother Nature, the melismatic-at-all-costs Jill Diane handles the vocals with considerably more exertion than inspiration, while the consistently vapid lyrics inspire envy for the audience members who speak one of those other 10 languages.... Everything rides on the physical feats, and the vast majority of those in Jungle Fantasy are daring enough and clever enough to captivate audiences of all ages without overstaying their welcome."

Concluding his review with a line from The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie: "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like," Variety's David Rooney offers the most visceral critique: "The interchangeable songs by Cirque Prods. musical director Jill Winters have titles like 'Eyes Wide Open,' 'You Can Grow Too,' 'Courage' and 'Strange Things,' but their words are pure nonsense. With vocalist Diane cranking up the dark sensuality and fierce enunciation in apparent homage to Shirley Bassey’s Bond themes, it’s merciful that long stretches of lyrics are incomprehensible over the disco-Muzak-meets-funked-up-faux-classical score.... Jungle Fantasy is not as pretentious as the worst of Cirque du Soleil, but it’s not as sophisticated either; the key word here is 'busy.'... But the three-ring circus tradition of simultaneous acts works less efficiently on a proscenium stage. Often the effect is of chaotic overkill when the main attraction is competing for focus with cancan-dancing bees, bustier-clad zebras, faux-balletic butterflies, goofy emus, a unicorn or even the versatile antics of Balestracci, who gets in on most of the acts."

Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy plays the Broadway Theatre through August 24 before heading out this November on a 39-city tour of North America.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Not Cirque Du Soleil: Cirque Dreams Opens On Broadway (June 26, 2008)
Broadway: What's Next (June 20, 2008)

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