Wednesday, March 22, 2017

REVIEW: Circus 1903 in Chicago

We attended opening night of Circus 1903 last night, as it made its debut here in Chicago.  It was a fantastic evening at the circus, and well worth seeing. You will enjoy yourself immensely.

The show is a collaboration between the producers of The Illusionists (which played last month in the same theatre) and the puppeteers of the  London West End sensation War Horse.  

The show brings us back in time to 1903, the glory years of the circus.  While we don't actually travel back in time, the costumes, sets, and performers all do a great job of reminding us of that time when television didn't exist, when radio didn't exist, and when all the factories and schools would shut down when the circus came to town.

David Willamson as ringmaster Willy Whipsnade
The acts in the show are sensational.  David Williamson, who plays the ringmaster, does a great job of moving the show along.  He plays his character somewhere in the middle of corny idealist and sharp con-man.  He introduces all of the acts, plays with the audience, and most importantly sets the scene.  Williamson is an accomplished magician, and although the tricks he does are all things you've seen before, he does them expertly, and most importantly his interaction with the audience is sharp, real, and funny.  He is also a fine actor.  Towards the beginning of the show, he has a simple monologue about the wonder of the circus that is simple and yet sensational.  I really believed him, and given the text, it would have been easy not to.

Senayet Asefa Amare
The circus acts themselves are all pretty great.  I was particularly taken with the Italian foot jugglers the Fratelli Rossi, who perform with a kind of speed and precision that is breath-taking to see.  At one point one of the brothers does a double flip from his brother's feet, they reset, and they do it again!  Astonishing!

Another great act was the contortionist Senayet Asefa Amare. She is perhaps the finest contortionist I have ever seen, doing a variety of tricks with ease and confidence.  There's one piece where her lower body rotates around her upper body, which is fairly still.  She bills herself as The Elastic Dislocationist, and I believe it.

A third very wonderful act was the juggler Francois Boire, who is a French club juggler.  As is typical of European flash jugglers, he was very fast and precise, but he was able to perform 7 clubs!  He also did a lot of incredible speed juggling, including a trick where he rotated the clubs sideways so that they were parallel to the ground instead of perpendicular.  I've seen that trick before, but not with the kind of speed and virtuosity that he displayed.

Mexican tightwire act finale Los Lopez
The rest of the acts were very good as well, including a remarkable teeterboard act, a puppet elephant and its baby that occupied a slow and very beautiful part of the show, an artistic cycling act that was well done, an aerialist, and the finale was a Mexican tightwire act.  Strangely, the program mentions three acts that weren't in the show that we saw-- I am not sure if they had problems getting visas, as they all seemed to be foreign acts, including what looked to be a terrific rolla bolla act, a clown act, a knife throwing act, and a Russian cradle act.

 Williamson did a couple of magic acts to fill in those spots-- his bullwhip act was so so, but his Rocky Racoon act (which is a 20 dollar spring puppet) was wonderfully performed and got a great response from the crowd.  He brought up 4 kids from the audience, and they had a fantastic time, and he knew how to play them for maximum response.

There were some lighting problems on the night we saw the show-- about  half of the bows for the individual acts were done without light.  Not sure if the follow spot operator called in sick, or they weren't able to set the lights due to their fast turnaround.  I am sure they will be working on that tomorrow.

All in all it was a wonderful show.  You should see it while it's here in Chicago, and if you can't see it in Chicago, they are going to be all over the United States for the next 6 months.  Click here to see if they will be in your area.

The performers take their final bows.
Some video of the acts in the show (provided by Broadway in Chicago.)
Some of the performers seen here didn't make it to the opening night.
I am not sure if they will be in the rest of the performances, or if they
had problems getting visas.

Wednesday, March 22 – 7:30PM
Thursday, March 23 – 7:30PM
Friday, March 24 – 7:30PM
Saturday, March 25 – 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday, March 26 – 2:00PM & 7:30PM


Individual tickets for CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus at the Oriental Theatre range from $16- $80 with premium seats available for all performances.  Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at

When last I looked HotTix did have tickets available for some of the performances as well.

No comments: