Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy

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.
Theatre: Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway between West 52nd and 53rd Streets
Schedule: Monday at 8 pm, Tuesday at 7 pm, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, Sunday at 7 pm.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 20 minute intermission.
Audience: Children 2 and over are admitted with a ticket. Everyone must have a ticket.
Ticket price: Orchestra, Orchestra Partial View (These seats have a full view of the stage except for 6 minutes of action that rises to the top of the stage. Patrons will still be able to experience the performance and enjoy the show as it is performed on stage and at different levels in the air.), and Front Mezzanine $96.50. Rear Mezzanine (Rows A-L) $66.50. Rear Mezzanine (Rows M-O) $46.50. Rear Mezzanine (Rows P-R) $26.50.
Premium Seat Prices $151.50, Friday & Saturday evenings $201.50.
Tickets: Telecharge

Photo by Carol Rosegg.
It's safe to assume that all the people encouraging us to live greener lives really don't have Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy in mind. The overgrown spectacle now at the Broadway is more characteristic of lackadaisical excess than of active love for one's fellow man. Or, for that matter, love for anything other than one's own body.

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.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.
In fact, even if you'd never seen one before the last year, you'd be set: Wintuk, this past winter's holiday show at Madison Square Garden, featured a street-entertainer scene in which a man balanced on some precariously piled pipes, a feat replicated quite closely here by Vladimir Dovgan and Anatoliy Yeniy. And last summer's Spiegeltent at the South Street Seaport featured dizzying aerial heroics from lithe performers that were more exciting - and more immediate - than those on display in Cirque Dreams, even when women swing from their hair and men from each other's arms.

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.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.
As such, it's easy enough to accept actors in turtle, frog, and unicorn costumes, to say nothing of the coterie of black-light owls and moths seen cavorting at the start of Act II. But when emus (native to Australia, I feel obliged to point out) start gliding across the stage on skateboards and meandering about with baby carriages, the illusion of the jungle is more than a little compromised. Not that consistency is to be necessarily expected - this is, after all, a stage lark and not a geography lesson - but when a show's setting is all that differentiates it from scores of imitators, doesn't it make more sense to get that right than to find ever-more inventive ways to get the leading man to remove his shirt?

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.

Privacy Policy