Welcome to the jungle, Cirque Productions, Inc. style. Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy, a royally entertaining circus without animals imaginatively created and deftly directed by Neil Goldberg, invites Broadway Series South patrons to take a walk on the wild side in exotic locales created by scenic designer Jon Craine. Craine’s spectacular sets and Cirque Productions’ equally spectacular animal costumes are both liberally striped and daubed with phosphorescent paint, which takes on a bright neon glow under ultraviolet light. Together, they create a surreal backdrop—an enchanted rain forest—for a jaw-dropping series of circus acts, some of which truly are death-defying.
The same cannot always be said about the acts of Cirque du Soleil of Montreal, Pompano Beach, FL-based Cirque Productions’ more famous Canadian competitor. The gargantuan size of some of the sets for Cirque du Soleil dwarfs the human element; and the liberal use of safety wires diminishes the risk and, therefore, the ultimate athletic achievement of each act, not to mention the audience’s thrill of seeing seemingly impossible feats performed right before their eyes.
Some highlights of Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy include: the amusing antics of the Jungleboys (impish U.S. clowns Marcello Balestracci and Glenn Rogers); an increasingly complicated jump-rope segment; a beautiful exhibition of balancing by three Contorting Lizards (Mongolian contortionists Uranmandakh Amarsanaa, Tsolmon Batbold, and Khongorzul Erdenebayer); an unusual rubber-ball-bouncing and juggling act by the Frog Juggler (Ruslan Dmytrak of the Ukraine); a shape-spinning exhibition by a trio of metal cube and triangle spinning Monkey Manipulators (Balestracci and Russian spinners Serguei Slavski and Alexander Tolstikov).
Other highlights include: high-flying aerial segments by Ivan Dotsenko of the Ukraine and Carly Sheridan of Canada), in which even the tiniest miscue means serious injury or worse; a magnificent balancing act by the Balancing Giraffe (Siarhei Kuzniatsou of Belarus), who ultimately stands atop a board set on an approximately five-foot-tall stack of five vertical cylinders and two horizontal cylinders; and an impressive strong-man segment by the Jungle Kings (Russian acrobats Sergey Parshin, Slavski, and Tolstikov).
Sassy staging by director Neil Goldberg, exuberant choreography by Tara Jeanne Vallee, and a spirited original score by musical director Jill Diane Winters also enliven the proceedings, which simply must be seen to be believed. Songs in English by Lady Bug (sultry U.S. vocalist Julia Langley) and Soul Tree (U.S. violinist extraordinaire Jared Burnett, who really saws a mean fiddle) not only provide invigorating musical interludes, plus transitions from scene to scene; but some of them would also make excellent stand-alone recordings.
From its opening fantasy—in which an Emu (Iouri Klepatsky of Russia) is born—until its Final Fantasy, the international cast and crew of Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy really had Tuesday’s opening-night audience jumping. Don’t miss it.
Broadway Series South presents Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy Thursday-Friday, Dec. 28-29, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 30, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 31, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $21-$64. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565, firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the presenter's site. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy: http://www.cirqueproductions.com/cirquedreams.htm.