Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey hails itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” but the latest incarnation of the company’s one-ring venture in Coney Island is more like “The Subtlest Circus on Earth.”
Mixing small-bore animal acts, quiet acrobatics and magic — yes, magic in a circus — the new “Illuscination” show is definitely a solid night of entertainment, but one that’s most enjoyed by the people in the good seats.
The rest of you, frankly, will spend the night craning your neck.
First, the good news: Just as last year, there are some outstanding wonders of human amazement on display under the big top on W. 21st Street.
Ringmaster David DaVinci brings a modern take on the traditional role, commanding the eye a bright gold lame jacket and tight black jeans — like some kind of mix-and-match Elvis. DaVinci adds an entirely un-circus-like element: his ramped-up magic acts.
He’s a great showman and a solid illusionist. No matter how many times I see the “lady in a box” trick, I am spellbound. And DaVinci and partner Jamieleigh’s version of the old trick where two people switch places in a locked box was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Better still, the inevitable Chinese acrobatic team of Sun Junjie and Qin Guojing provided a rare mix of strength, agility and daredevilishness with a fiery acrobatic act.
First, they bend metal with their bare throats. Then they do some martial arts. And then, they tumble through a knife-covered tube. Then one of them does it blindfolded. And then with the tube on fire. And then with the tube on fire and spinning!
The much-hyped hair-hanging act of Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves lives up to its billing. It’s one thing to hear that two women will hang from their hair, but it’s another thing to watch them spinning and twirling like teacups when connected to the high wire only by their thick ponytails.
Now, the bad news: A handful of the acts are just too small or too subtle to register with the bleacher creatures. The cat act was particular problematic, playing out in the same way that Jimi Hendrix must have appeared to people who were at the back of Yasgur’s farm.
Several extended clown bits — including one with a horse whose timing was better than his human partner — fell flat. And a motorcycle number is less than interesting.
Even the lion routine was fairly, well, routine.
But those misses are outnumbered by the hits — and with tickets that start at just $10, Ringling Bros. is certainly “the Greatest Show at the Lowest Price on Earth.”
And one more thing: The action is hot, but the tent is cold — bring a jacket, as the air-conditioning is comfortable only to pregnant ladies who are past their due date.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Illuscination” [W. 21 Street between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk in Coney Island, (800) 745-3000], through Sept. 6. Tickets start at $10. For info, visit, www.ringling.com.