The illustrious, ingenious Phineas Taylor Barnum once said, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.” Indeed he was right. In 1871 he created a traveling circus to promote such hogwash and fiddle-faddle as acrobats, clowns, and an African Elephant named Jumbo. Barnum’s traveling circus celebrating all things humbug was a great success and has been in existence ever since.
I am startled, amazed, and delighted to report that 140 years on, that same circus, now known as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, is still able to astonish and enchant even modern ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages. With their new show FULLY CHARGED, which just completed a successful run in Austin, Ringling Bros puts on a dazzling, crowd-pleasing, old-fashioned spectacle.
Ringling Bros. wisely mixes in some new, bizarre, and unique circus acts into the standard, expected fare with FULLY CHARGED. Among some unexpected highlights are the acrobatic clowns of the Alimgulov Troupe and their giant bike. The large, doughnut-like, six foot tall rubber tires allow the troupe to showcase some slapsticky stunts, like bouncing off the tires and onto the seat of the bike, being run over, and the like, resulting in an entertaining blend of comedy and athleticism. Equally as unexpected is the act of the Tianyicheng Troupe of bounce stilt artists. True to their name, bounce stilts are smaller, spring-loaded stilts that allow the wearer to do gravity-defying jumps, and this troupe of 20 showcases that jumping power in a spirited slam-dunk contest.
But of course, all of the standard, well-loved circus acts are here as well. The Negrey Troupe of gymnasts closes out the show with an astonishing display of backflips, tumbles, and handsprings. Brothers Guillermo and Alberto Fernandez thrill the crowd with a unique double pendulum act, in which they jump back and forth between two giant pendulums and do some very impressive jump rope tricks in the process. The Yabubov Troupe of areal artists and acrobats electrifies the audience with astounding maneuvers and stunts involving 40-foot long ribbons. They climb, twirl, tumble, and plummet in a display that beautiful and heart-stopping, considering that they do their areal tricks without nets, harnesses, or wires. However the dangerous feats of the Yabubov Troupe pale in comparison to those of the Danguir Troupe of tightrope walkers. Also without a net and with no harnesses or wires (save for one very elaborate stunt), this troupe doesn’t just walk the highwire. They leap, dance, jump rope, and ride bikes across it in perhaps the most incredible act of the evening.
Though the stunts and athletic feats may be at the core of FULLY CHARGED, Ringmaster Brian Crawford Scott does a fantastic job of keeping this zany ship on course. With his charming persona, charismatic voice, and undeniable stage presence, he is a classic showman and constantly likeable. Equally charming and likable are the clown troupe which cover up the often complex and time-consuming transitions between acts by providing some crazy madcap antics, many of which comment on or parody the proceeding act. And perfectly supporting all of the acts, clowns, and performers are the ingenious lighting by Alex Reardon and the whimsical costumes by Susan Hilferty (Tony Award Winner for her costumes for WICKED).
Yet the biggest stars of FULLY CHARGED, both in esteem and in actual size, are the animal performers. The show boasts a herd of horses, close to a dozen ferocious tigers, and five majestic elephants, all of which do a bevy of tricks. As the show’s head animal trainer and presenter, Tabayara Maluneda proves to be more than just a solid animal expert. He is a mega-watt entertainer who delights at hamming it up for the crowd, adding a splash of humor to his incredibly impressive and dangerous routines.