Show Me Center gets compact version of circus

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

The Greatest Show on Earth is bringing the new, compact version of its product to Cape Girardeau for a test run. Promoters swear on the bearded lady's mustache that they've packed just as many clowns into a smaller car.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey is bringing the Hometown Edition of its big-top theater to the Show Me Center April 15 through 18. Cape Girardeau will be only the 10th place in the world to host this new one-ring circus.

Promoters insist that bigger isn't necessarily better. In fact, promoter Roberto Valdez says the single-ring version of the legendary three-ring spectacle has its own appeal.

"This unit is a much more intimate experience," Valdez said. "The performers actually walk among the crowd."

For the price of an $18 floor ticket, fans can sit in the shadow of the amazing Jon Weis and the card table he is balancing on his chin. They also can stretch their necks to see the acrobatic shows directly above them.

"It's as close to the show as they can be without actually being in it," Valdez said.

While the high-end ticket gets you on the floor, he said, there isn't a bad seat for this show. Before the big show begins, there will be a preshow during which anyone in attendance will be able to wander the floor, talk to performers, tour the backstage animal compound and take lessons on balancing objects from Weis himself.

Beginners will have to start with small objects and work their way up to furniture.

Once the show begins, audiences can watch a show packed with peril. The Espana motorcycle family will be featured in their famous Thunderdome, a spherical metal cage in which three motorcycles run full-throttle, simultaneously trying to avoid one another and dodge the brave soul standing in the center. Other acts include a contortionist named Sapo and strongman Herkules as well as the traditional elephants, horses and clowns.

The Hometown Edition is Ringling Bros.' solution to a problem with the size and spectacle of its three-ring show.

"We were getting so big that we simply couldn't reach all the markets we wanted to," Valdez said.

These growing pains were shared by middle-market communities like Cape Girardeau, which has been trying to find a way to get the empire of P.T. Barnum to stop by for more than a decade.

In June 1993, the last time the Ringling Bros. circus train came through Cape Girardeau, the entire three-ring act was packed into the Show Me Center. But that act has outgrown smaller venues over the past 10 years.

"They can hardly fit the big show in the Saavis Center" in St. Louis, said Brad Gentry, the Show Me Center's marketing director. "It just wouldn't have worked without them scaling back their product, and that's hardly feasible for them."

Now that the circus is coming back to town, Gentry hopes the Show Me Center can rekindle negotiations with Ringling Bros. promoting firm -- Feld Entertainment -- to make Cape Girardeau a regular stop on the circus' tour as well as a destination for some of Feld's other acts, like Disney on Ice.

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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