'Be a kid again' when the circus comes to town

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Elephants, tigers and fire — oh my. It can only mean one thing: The circus is coming to town, red noses, blue hair and all.

Three shows Saturday and one performance Sunday each guarantee two hours of nonstop action in the ring.

The new show from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Boom A Ring, is a one-ring circus with "more of a European style with a more intimate setting," production manager Jason Gibson said.

"The show has new acts, new music, new props, the whole shebang," he said.

Along with the traditional high-wire performers and Asian elephants, the circus features six white Bengal tigers with their trainer Vicenta Pages and a troop of dachsunds who perform different routines.

"They're just little weenie dogs," Gibson said. "The kids just love it."

Setting up for the circus takes about 70 hours and a hundred people. Many of the performers set up their own equipment. William Cruzado and Javier Castro, two high-wire performers, set up their "Wheel of Steel" themselves.

"It's like a skydiver packing his own parachute," Gibson said.

You've got to come an hour before each show to "experience the circus" before you experience the circus, he said. Guests can learn to juggle, walk a 2 1/2-foot high rope, try on costumes from old shows and meet the performers.

"You get to feel like a performer," Gibson said.

The two-hour shows are set in a large ring at the Show Me Center. Gibson said the action rolls the entire time.

"All that energy can't be contained in that one ring; it explodes into the audience and the audience sends it back," he said. "You gotta make sure to get your cotton candy and snow cone before the show starts because you're going to miss so much because of the pace of the show."

Engulfed in that energy, along with the tigers, is Eccentric Extraordinaire Justin Case with bicycles, juggling material and a ring of fire.

So, including the All Access Pre-show, which Gibson said is a must, "you're talking almost three hours of entertainment. No matter how old you are, you can be a kid again."

The circus isn't all about fun. A portion of each ticket benefits the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation. The organization works to preserve and grow the Asian elephant population in an attempt to remove it from the endangered species list.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Boom-A-Ring performances are 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday. Pre-show starts one hour before each performance. Tickets are $10, $15 and $20. Opening day tickets are $13 for the 11:30 a.m. show. To order tickets, visit www.ringling.com, Ticketmaster locations, the Show Me Center Box Office or call 651-5000.

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