Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - June 26, 2008
Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy Music & Lyrics by Jill Winters. Created & Directed by Neil Goldberg. Choreographed by Tara Jeanne Vallee. Costume design by Cirque Productions: Lenora Taylor, Santiago Rojo. Additional music by David Scott, Keith Heffner, Billy Paul Williams, Tony Aliperti, Lance Conque, Christopher Pati. Act design by Neil Goldberg, Heather Hoffman, Iouri Klepatsky. Scenic design by Jon Craine. Lighting design by Kate Johnson. Sound design by Craig Cassidy. Animal sculpture designs by William Olson. Production design by Betsy Herst.
The overriding (and obviously unintentional) message of creator-director Neil Goldberg’s fast-wilting circus in that there’s no problem textbook acrobatics and a gym membership can’t remedy. And, true, it’s hard not to experience momentary titillative thrills when the 20-some members of this cast are defying gravity, death, or common sense in various states of stylized animal dress or glitzy fashion undress.
But such pleasures do have their limits, and one can’t help but anticipate that legitimate enjoyment will poke its head through the underbrush once in a while. That notion evaporates after five minutes, when it becomes clear the show’s “story” will revolve around nothing more than an eager young man (Marcello Balestracci) gazing in amazement at, and participating in, the magical happenings he discovers after being sucked into them. The score, by Jill Winters (and augmented by half a dozen others) is a typical blend of rhythmic beats, ethereal melodies, and generically uplifting lyrics (usually voiced by an encouraging Mother Nature, played by the pretty but pallid Jill Diane), none of which linger long between the ears.
Surely the acts themselves must offer more? Alas, no. There are a few isolated instances of impressive coordinated precision, particularly in an early number featuring a group of intricately organized jump-rope artists. But most of the specialties are more applause-baiting than they are breathtaking or original; if you’ve never seen a show like this before, you might be astounded by the way some of the folks get flying, but even a moderate familiarity with similar evenings considerably dulls the impact of this one.
What those performances lacked that this one does not is an all-encompassing visual concept. That is not, for the record, a positive. The overall look is more desperately garish than it is whimsical, perhaps a slight improvement on the all-verdant inflatable set used two years ago in Disney’s Tarzan, but otherwise rather far from an eyeful. Jon Craine’s shadowy storybook set is a muddy interpretation of what should be a verdant landscape; the outlandish costumes from Cirque Productions (Lenora Taylor and Santiago Rojo) suggest the floor show at a rain forest-themed Las Vegas megahotel.
Even if such a question is not one a show like this is supposed to inspire, at least it pinpoints the creators’ priorities. There can be no question that Goldberg and his colleagues have successfully distinguished their brand from that of the other, much more famous troupe with the word Cirque in its name. But that one built its reputation on variety and invention that gave greater weight to its humble appreciation of the untapped potential of the human body. Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy revels so much in vague, unrealized ideas that you’re filled less with wonder than with the intense hope that du Soleil will come out tomorrow.