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‘Circus 1903’ a whimsical journey to circus days of yesteryear — VIDEO

It’s a circus even a card-carrying PETA member would approve.

And if “Circus 1903” doesn’t capture all the thrills of those thrilling circus days of yesteryear, at least it tips its top hat to the past as it reflects present-day attitudes.

Subtitled “The Golden Age of Circus,” the show — which just launched an open-ended run at Paris Las Vegas — boasts an impressive array of acrobats, jugglers, wire-walkers (or, as they’re more formally known, funambulists), contortionists, trick bicyclists and more.

What you won’t find, naturally, are elements that used to be star circus attractions but aren’t anymore.

If clowns creep you out, never fear: The show’s lone clown sequence is handled audience-participation style, with volunteers briefly donning pointy hats and choosing foam noses.

As for those precious pachyderms, “Circus 1903” comes up with two captivating substitutes: Queenie and Peanut, a mother-and-child elephant puppet team created by the folks behind Broadway’s “War Horse” and brought to life by multiple puppeteers.

They prance and rear on their hind legs, stand on stools and twirl around. They even squirt water from their trunks.

But make no mistake: It’s the human performers of “Circus 1903” who hog the spotlight for most of the show.

Host and ringmaster William Winterbottom Whipsnade (wry, spry David Williamson) initially welcomes audiences by wandering in, disguised as a popcorn vendor, and tossing kernels at unsuspecting patrons.

“You’re not at the theater!” he reminds us. “You’re at the circus!”

We don’t need a reminder once “Circus 1903’s” lineup of can-you-top-this performers go into their acts.

Whether it’s the Sensational Sozonov, defying gravity while teetering atop a tower of rola-bola cylinders, or Cycling Cyclone Florian Blummel popping wheelies as he treats his bicycle like a unicycle, “Circus 1903” serves up a succession of eye-popping acts.

Among the most astounding: sideshow sequence star the Elastic Dislocationist (alias Senayet Assefa Amara), a human spider so flexible she can bend in half, then walk her legs in a circle around herself.

The members of the high-wire trio Los Lopez start by walking the tightrope, then progress to riding unicycles and bicycles while the team’s female member does the splits on a bar balanced on the others’ shoulders.

From juggling whiz the Great Gaston to spinning, flipping Fratelli Rossi and teeterboard aces the Flying Finns, director Neil Donward keeps the action going — except when it’s interrupted by performers encouraging audience applause to the point of begging. (Its amazing they can hear it over the show’s thunderous soundtrack.)

The big finale: the Russian cradle acts Les Incredibles, in which Andrei Kalesnikau tosses somersaulting Anny Laplante through the air with the greatest of ease. And without a trapeze.

Yet the show’s high point (at least for me) was much more low-key, as Whipsnade invited a quartet of kids on stage to join him in a charming sequence featuring snappy patter, a funny puppet, simple magic tricks — and the not-so-simple magic of children engaging in make-believe.

And in this day and age, that may be the most stupendous sight of all.

Contact Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

 

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