Circus Oz--The Laughing at Gravity Tour
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
December 2, 2006
In a hectic season that can too easily become a grind, give yourself a new perspective on possibility by enjoying Circus Oz: The Laughing at Gravity Tour at the New Victory Theater. It is astonishing and gloriously fun to watch these incredibly physical performers as they find new planes of balance for the human body through clever reinterpretations of the circus arts, and all the while create endless degrees of hilarity. In the best tradition of circus, this show took away my breath—sometimes from laughing too hard and sometimes from utter amazement.
There are no animals (other than homo sapiens) in Circus Oz, where the focus instead is on the astounding capabilities of the human body. Strongly physical theatre and clever framing ideas are combined with sensational acrobatics, trapeze, pole climbing, ball juggling, and hula hoop madness. This circus even has a charming strong woman in Mel Fyfe, equally engaging in her alter-ego Kimmy. She and the other performers come out into the house prior to the show. In character, they mingle with the audience throughout the theatre in a very inviting and low-key manner, winning friends before any feats are attempted.
This circus, whose stated purpose is to "create something entirely original and fresh that reflected Australian culture—a show that was hilarious, intelligent, spectacular, topical, and beautiful," establishes what makes it unique within the first few acts.
The show begins a wonderful rush of music (consistently strong throughout) as most of the cast are gathered up in a classic group bike trick. Or it would be the classic trick except that the cyclist (Scott Hone) has a wonderfully absurd rocker wig. He is followed by the hilarious and wonderful Singing Stuntman, Matt Wilson, in a routine that establishes the high energy, cheeky sense of humor that prevails through the show. The ensemble is back for an incredible pole climb sequence and then there is a don't-try-this-at-home, high-level bike trick. This bike trick manages to bring on the accordionist, Svetlana Bunic, as a matador to the BMX hi-jinx of Scott Hone. After somehow managing to demolish several cement slabs on the strong woman Mel Fyfe (really, you have to see it), there is a wide-eyed and engaging double trapeze act with Azaria Universe and Jess Love. This is where an almost British Panto-like sensibility started to creep into the show—there being a sly humor underlying the deadpan play in this act of the kind that works for both adults and kids at different levels. They are deftly followed by Sosina Wogayehu, who charmingly performs a ball-juggling routine done with a 1930s musical air and is well supported by three of her fellow performers as stylish, nouveau Astaire-ettes. 13 more acts follow, well-paced and not as overwhelming as my description. Most share this attitude of not only being amazing but fun, a delight to the eyes.
Circus Oz is indeed "hilarious, intelligent, spectacular, topical, and beautiful" but a minor gripe from me would be that "topical" could use more time with "fun." This circus's ringleader, Christa Hughes, has two very preachy, pc numbers that veer dangerously close to tedious despite her stylish cabaret maneuvers and commanding presence. It is a small caveat but could use some attention. Also, although the show is being touted as for all ages, I would think twice about bringing children under five. It is two hours long, even with a decent intermission, and as the little ones get tired, certain acts may be too scary for them. Michael Ling's fantastic Sway Pole routine was brilliantly terrifying for me but a bit too much for the four-year-old nearby who had to leave with his dad.
Essentially, if you're not feeing any holiday spirit or just lacking a general joy in life, give yourself a helluva of a present and go to magical place via Circus Oz.