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Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Photo by Richard Termine.

The theatre critic in me wants to lament that Wintuk, the Cirque du Soleil seasonal spectacular that's now in its third year at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, only gets more incomprehensible as it gets more dazzling. The kid in me wants to tell him to shut up. And, since it's That Time of Year (or at least close enough), the inner child gets the deciding vote yet again.

Say what you will about this show, which was originally written and directed by Richard Blackburn and has been recreated this year by Fernand Rainville: It remains entertaining in that reassuring but old-fashioned way that somehow transcends eye-popping trappings and locks your gaze on the humans at its core. Yes, the city- and tundra-scape set (by Patricia Ruel), urban-meets-Inuit costumes (François Barbeau), and mystical lighting (Yves Aucoin and Matthieu Larivée) and projections (Francis Laporte) are impressive, but it's the individual acts you leave remembering.

Even after three viewings, the electrician (Alexandre Monteiro) who balances on an ever-growing pile of boards and rolling pipe fittings is harrowing and fun. The juggling acts - one from a man on a clothesline (Jaimie Adkins), the other from a woman descending a flight of stairs (Maria Choodu) - are deceptively virtuosic. The dual mid-air strap dance in the second act is a super-serene pleaser. And the Act I finale, in which most of the cast - dressed as burglars, sheepdogs, and bicycle police officers - chase each other across a stage-spanning trampoline - is so energetic it defies winter's lethargy all by itself.

It's a good thing the solo spots hold up so well, because the rest of the show, well, doesn't. The score (with music by Simon Carpentier and lyrics by Jim Corcoran) is as ethereal as it is forgettable: "Night is cool, night is calm, nothing's missing, nothing's wrong" runs a typically restful lyric, and it's one of the few you can actually understand.

The first year, there was a strongly defined story about a young boy who's desperate to bring snow to his town, and doesn't mind traveling to a magical land to get it. Last year, the "boy" was more clearly in his early 20s, and a lot of the more specific narrative and characterizations had been stripped. Now the boy (Christopher Jones) is an unapologetic adult, and the other characters - the Little Girl (Charlotte Martin), the garbage can-dwelling Wimpy (Fecundo Gimenez), and the all-knowing and all-narrating Shaman (Laur Fugère) - are about as much a part of the set as the singing lampposts, and give enthusiastic but shallow performances to match.

From that vantage point, the show hasn't improved over its New York stays; I also frankly miss the more elaborate battle between the giant ice monsters in the second act, which has now been reduced to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit. But all that's splitting hairs. Wintuk is a gleaming, attractive tribute to talent that's primed to get children equally interested in both the season and Cirque du Soleil, so it succeeds at its most elemental goal. Parents or those in the mood for something more emotionally or dramatically detailed won't be so satisfied, but even what's here is good enough to prevent your heart from icing over altogether.

Through January 3
Theater at Madison Square Garden, 4 Penn Plaza
TICKETS Box Office: 212-465-MSG1

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