Review: ‘Big Apple Circus’ at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park

Now in its 41st season, the Big Apple Circus, originally founded in 1977, has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but it’s back with a bang for the holidays at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, preceding a national tour in 2019 (which includes the DC area’s National Harbor in February-March). Written and directed by Mark Lonergan, the European-style one-ring two-act spectacle offers thrills and delights for all ages, in an intimate big top where no seat is more than 50 feet from the performers, no wild or exotic animals are presented, and community outreach is a priority.

Hosted by Ringmaster Stephanie Monseu and featuring an accomplished international roster of artists performing astonishing feats, this updated “circus with a heart” provides special sensory-adapted “Autism Performances” and enhanced “Circus of the Senses” show dates, along with its “Circus for All” initiative of reduced ticket prices for underserved children and schools. All audiences are welcome to enjoy the Hall of Wonders, filled with themed activities, photo ops, treats, and libations (created by acclaimed mixologist Pamela Wiznitzer) before and after the show and during intermission, and a VIP ticket gives access to complimentary craft cocktails, popcorn and cotton candy, special gifts, and a private entrance, restrooms, and coat check in the lavish Victorian-style mirrored hall (a highly-recommended add-on), plus ringside seating in the first two rows of the main tent.

Victor Moiseev. Photo by Juliana Crawford.
Victor Moiseev. Photo by Juliana Crawford.

The authentic ambience (production and set design by Anita La Scala and Rob Bissinger), costumes (by Amy Clark), and original live music (by Peter Bufano, David Bandman, and Jeffery Holmes, with musical direction by Rob Slowik) are perfect complements to the dazzling array of circus arts on display. From traditional high-flying aerial stunts on trapeze (The Flying Tunizianis), wall trampoline (Spicy Circus), and aerial straps (Desire of Flight by Valeriy Sychev and Ekaterina Stepanova), skills of balance and acrobatics on freestanding ladder (Emil Faltyny) and hand to hand (Duo Fusion by Virginia Tuells and Ihosvanys Perez), and comic shenanigans with cigar boxes, musical bells, modernized clowning, and audience interactions (Mark Gindick and Adam Kuchler, without the usual red noses and wigs, whiteface or masks, and oversized shoes), to the innovative blacklight horizontal juggling (conceived and performed by Victor Moiseev, in his American debut), the show is fully captivating, sometimes funny, often breathtaking, and always entertaining.

Charlie, the rescue dog. Photo by Juliana Crawford.
Charlie, the rescue dog. Photo by Juliana Crawford.

In addition to the astounding human acts, animal trainer Jenny Vidbel presents irresistible rescue dogs, horses, and ponies that their show talents and are guaranteed to melt the hearts of children and adults alike, as they perform tricks and run circles around the ring, a mere inches from the front-row seats. While it’s disturbing to see Vidbel brandishing a whip during the equestrian performance, all of the canine and equine circus artists live with her, and are loved and cared for by her, on her ranch in the Catskill Mountains when the circus is on hiatus.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly attraction that combines daring with beauty, gasps with laughs, and a timeless tradition with a new sensibility, the Big Apple Circus has it all.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including an intermission.

Ringmaster Stephanie Monseu and company. Photo by Juliana Crawford.
Ringmaster Stephanie Monseu and company. Photo by Juliana Crawford.

Big Apple Circus plays through Sunday, January 27, 2019, performing at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park – 137 West 62nd Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 257-2330, option 6, or purchase them online.

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Deb Miller
Deb has written reviews, interviews, and feature articles for Stage Magazine, theartblog, and Inferno, and is a lead writer for Phindie.com and the Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice. She is a judge for Theatre Philadelphia's Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, and previously was a Voter for the awards under the former Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Deb holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware, has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and has taught at the U of D, Bryn Mawr, Rutgers-Camden, Hussian School of Art, and Rowan University.