In any other city, you picture the committee meeting for a fundraiser going like this:
“How about a big top theme?”
“Hmm, interesting. But do we have the budget for the costumes? And wouldn’t it be kind of cheesy without actual circus performers? I mean, it’s not like anyone knows any acrobats.”
But the planning meeting for Golden Rainbow’s 28th annual Ribbon of Life?
“Hmm, well that certainly would be efficient, wouldn’t it? Just have to make sure it’s not too much like work for them.”
Somehow though, the annual gathering of show people to fight AIDS and HIV never does. Instead, the Sunday afternoon benefit in Penn & Teller’s theater at the Rio revealed, as Golden Rainbow always does, just how much effort entertainers will put into something if you give them a good cause and a creative outlet beyond the one that pays the bills.
And the “Under the Big Top” theme managed to find still a few new corners of the circus world to explore — thematically, at least — even if a few of the numbers seemed to exhibit a bit of passive-aggressive acting out.
Demented clowns throughout. The “Love” cast showing a new kind of love with kinky whip-crackin’. Two numbers (deliberately) going off the rails with rebellious, dangerous performers. Maybe just a wee bit of pent-up repression about the Las Vegas obsession with Cirque du Soleil and variety shows?
“You know we’re gonna have nightmares tonight,” declared co-emcee Edie, who usually handles the hosting in Cirque’s “Zumanity.”
More often though, it was easy to fold acrobats into the revue’s trademark Broadway-style numbers. The vocal numbers rarely suffered for a visual counterpoint, such as the male stars of “Mamma Mia!” singing Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer” as a gymnast did a handstand on raised poles in the background.
A few numbers gave the performers a chance to get their pop on, mashing up recent hits into medleys. There was even an edgy rap by Brandon Nix (of “Rock of Ages”) leading into a more predictable “Man in the Mirror.”
As Edie (Christopher Kenney) pointed out, the true reward is “for us to come together” and cross creative paths. One of the stand-out numbers, “20,000 Leagues Away: A Sunken Circus,” was easy enough on the costume budget with its uniform black swimwear, but stylistically bold and minimalist as “Zombie Burlesque” star Sophia Monica weaved amid symmetric performers from several shows, including “Mystere” and “O.”
“Imagine them trying to schedule this rehearsal?” Edie noted of the coalition.
Cabaret Jazz headliner Clint Holmes sustained a “Golden Rainbow” tradition of spelling the group numbers with a hushed, intimate vocal solo, this time “Send in the Clowns” with Christian Tamburr on vibraphone.
But a tradition ended this year for cohost Chris Saldana, who announced he delayed a move to Austin for one last Golden Rainbow before he relocates there for a TV anchor position.
Austin may have better bands and barbecue. But one suspects it won’t be quite as easy there to whip together a circus on a Sunday afternoon.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.