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Chicago by John Olson

Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy
Chicago Theater

Also see John's reviews of bare and Good Boys and True

Cirque Dreams
The Butterflyers
I guess if one is going to invite a comparison to the famous French Canadian Cirque du Soleil by calling an American company of gymnasts and acrobats Cirque, one had better be prepared for the comparison. Cirque Dreams, a touring company that produces corporate shows as well as this national tour, lacks the "oh-my-god-how-did-they-ever-do-that" factor of Cirque du Soleil, but compares pretty well as the family-friendly, lower-priced spread. You could call it the "poor man's Cirque du Soleil," if a poor man could afford the top price of $57.50 a ticket. Maybe "value-priced" versus Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas prices of up to $165 is a more appropriate term. And, apart from a few mildly suggestive poses as tumbling gymnasts landed into each other's bodies, nothing to be uncomfortable sharing with kids.

Though the physical feats of Cirque Dreamsaren't so different from the sorts of things that used to be found on TV's Ed Sullivan Show in the '50s and '60s, there's still wonder to be found in the athleticism of the mostly Russian and Ukrainian athletes who climb and spin high above the stage on long flowing sashes, balance on stacks of cylinders, and tumble proficiently into all sorts of positions with each other. Unlike the Sullivan show (but like Cirque du Soleil), it's all set to new age music with an attractive score by Music Director Jill Diane Winters, pre-recorded except for electric violin played by Jared Burnett as the "Soul Tree" and sung by "Bug Lady" Julia Langley who appear in roughly every other act. An emcee of sorts is the Jungle Boy, Glenn Rogers, who has a likable comic persona and considerable gymnastic skills.

Most impressive in the seamless merger of music and gymnastics are Sergey Parshin and Naomi Sampson as the "Butterflyers," who leap from the stage to the sash with such dancer-like grace they appear to fly. With its jungle theme, there are lots of cute animals and comedy numbers like "Lady Bug Bop." The proceedings are set against designer Jon Craine's florescent backdrop of giant mushrooms and trees, with a huge full moon in the background.

There's nothing history-making about it, but the company Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy wins you over with their unpretentious amiability and athletic skill. At less than $50.00 per ticket, it's a nice night of live performance for a family crowd.

Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy is playing a limited engagement at the Chicago Theatre through December 31, 2007. Tickets range from $20 to $57.50 and are available at the Chicago Theatre Box Office (175 N. State), by calling 312-902-1500 or through Ticketmaster.


Photo: Carol Rosegg

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-- John Olson



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