The Greatest Show on Earth Still Great after 136 years!

The Circus of Dreams thrills the entire family!

The “Greatest Show on Earth” opened its 136th edition production in Oakland this past week, providing a truly wonderful evening of “old-fashioned” circus fun for the entire family. Yes, it is not like the circus shows of old, and yet is a fully entertaining production that everyone seemed to come away feeling good about. The famous three ring circus design has been reduced to one large all-encompassing ring of events that brings human and animal performers onto one gigantic stage. What is new is that the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus has gone “modern media”, utilizing a huge 24 foot diameter brilliantly illuminated LED video screen, allowing the audience to get to experience and see animals, clowns, actors, and daredevils, in a way that you have never seen them before. I really like the big screen concept! You get to see close-up shots that you cannot see from your seat.

The “all access pre-show” allows everyone to come down on the circus performing floor (the floor of the auditorium) where the clowns and performers provide a hands-on experience that is truly up close and personal. For example, an animal trainer stands in an area that is approximately 50 feet across, surrounded by a tightly gathered circle of adults and children, watching intently while he explains how they train the elephants. In another “show and tell” performance, the trainer and his assistants led a small group of South American Alpaca’s along the ring in front of the spectators, encouraging them to pet them and to feel their marvelously soft fur. All over the arena’s floor, the circus entertainers engage the audience members in small groups, one-on-one, challenging them to dance and jiggle and jump and play with clowns and dancers and all sorts of characters. People were getting photographic shots of their kids mingling with the clowns and animals. Lots of people brought their cameras and took tons of photos. The Asian elephants (an endangered species) are worked, loved and protected at the same time by this wonderful group of caring performers. It seems to me that the performances of these animals are simpler than they used to be, probably in some fashion in deference to the demands of animal rights groups. You cannot go away from the show without a greater appreciation for these wonderful animals and grateful that a portion of your ticket price is going to help preserve these giant animals in the Center for Elephant Conservatism funded and run by this Circus family.

This year’s “Circus of Dreams” employs professional actors purporting to be a “lucky family” drawn from the audience to experience what it would be like to be magically drawn into the circus family to experience the stuff that dreams are made of. Former American Idle top-30 finalist “Jennifer Fuentes” leads this awestruck family from the audience to the center of the ring, allowing dad (played by Chuck Wagner) to realize his dream as a ringmaster and mom (played by Gisela Riquelme) to become a real-life aerialist, soaring above the audience. Even their “children” experience what it would be like to be members of this star-studded show, living what must be just about every kid’s fantasy, joining and performing in the circus.
This “pop-style” musical circus event employs exotic and domestic animals in addition to the eighty-five performers ranging from clowns to exquisite acrobatic performers; to an intellectual man of steel who catches canon balls in flight; to flying equestrian performers mounting and dismounting on the run; to motorcycle performers (the Torres family) who perform mile-a-minute death-defying madness while whirling like dervishes in a sphere of solid steel. While all of the acts were fun and entertaining, it was perhaps this final thrilling motorcycle rampage that was the most stunning of all.

I never knew that house cats could be trained to perform with exotic birds and was blown away by their performances with their Russian trainer, Svetlana Shamsheeva. The clowns were terrific with their crazy skits, ranging from gigantic food fights to midget car race mania. The only thing missing was the lions and tigers and bears, oh my! That’s right, no lions or tigers or bears!!

The show moves from Oakland to San Jose to the HP Pavilion at 525 Wes Santa Clara Street, this week, on Wednesday, August 23rd at 6 p.m. for the pre-show events and at 7:30 p.m. for the actual circus show itself. The drive to San Jose, down highway 680 is generally a relatively simple and smooth drive. This wild new circus event ends on August 27th.

While this is a great show for the entire family, it is (from my perspective) somewhat expensive and there is no price break for kids. Tickets range between $15 and $95 per person, depending on how close you want to experience the experience. By today’s standards, $15 for four hours of entertainment is not bad. I just would prefer to see prices a little more reasonable for the children. Call (510) 625-TIXS (8497) or visit (if you can, I strongly recommend the on-line ticket sales process) for tickets and reservations. You may also purchase tickets at the on-site box-offices but they are generally swamped.

This show is a great experience for the “Kid” in all of us and if you have grand-children, what a fun experience this could be for all!