Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 23, 2008
Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy brings the world of acrobatics, aerialists, and circus to the Broadway stage. It is perhaps not the most felicitous of convergences: the show does not fit terribly well in the Broadway Theatre (sightlines in the front orchestra, where I was sitting, are not all that good, for example); the Vegas-y decor, framed by a unit set whose main attribute seems to be that it's portable, is on the tacky side; and the songs—all performed by an Idina Menzel-wannabe named Jill Diane, who plays "Mother Nature"—are interchangeably dull.
But I found it pretty easy to set aside all the stuff I just quibbled about when the skillful performers who are the heart and soul of Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy get to do what they do best. There's a spectacularly thrilling number at the middle of the second act called "Jungle-ibrium" in which Anatoliy Yeniy and Vladimir Dovgan, costumed wittily and nattily as "Balancing Giraffes," stand atop layered stools that are themselves atop hollowed-out canisters that are in turn atop very tall blocks or boxes—at the climax of their act, these guys must be 30 feet or more above ground, oh-so-tenuously teetering on a stack that seems impossible to teeter on. I've never seen an act quite like this one, and it's the highlight of a show that features many astonishing feats.
I'll mention some others that I really enjoyed: "Butterflying" offers Sergey Parshin and Naomi Sampson swinging on dazzlingly colored cloths and soaring around the stage like, yes, butterflies—a glorious celebration of flight and freedom; "Rollin' Around," in which Dovgan (costumed as a snake this time) navigates in gravity-defying ways inside one of those big spinning wheel devices; "Personality," a brief piece that features several performers costumed, whimsically and cleverly, as emus; and "Roar," the climax of the show, in which strong men Alexander Tolstikov, Swerguei Slavski, Pavel Pozdnyakov, and Parshin demonstrate a variety of stunts.
The show also includes sequences devoted to juggling, box spinning, contortion, trapeze, and various other specialized skills, all assigned more or less appropriately to a particular animal or plant in keeping with the overall jungle theme. If these sorts of physical theatre demonstrations are your bag, there's almost certainly something here you'll enjoy and be impressed by.
There's intermittent choreography (by Tara Jeanne Vallee) that I wished was more exciting and plentiful. There's also a storyline of sorts, concerning an "Adventurer" who is guided by "Mother Nature" through the various scenes in the jungle and learns about/from each one. Marcello Balestracci plays the "Adventurer" and his versatility is quite remarkable; it helps that he's one of the most accessible and likable performers on stage, so we keep rooting for him to "acquire" whatever new skill he's being shown.
Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy is not as opulent or magical as I imagined it might be, but it is entirely professional and, with a large stock of rear mezzanine seats that sell for $26.50 - $66.50, it's actually a pretty good deal, economically, as Broadway entertainment goes these days. And, in the moments when its cast members defy logic and gravity to soar high above us, it provides some authentic thrills.