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Friday, September 22, 2023

Life + Arts

Greatest show arrives in Houston

More than 150 years of big top experience have come to Houston once again in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s 138th Edition Blue Tour. Over the Top, this year’s show, lives up to its name and the circus tradition of wild stunts and performances all under one roof.

The traditional three-ring circus has changed its structure to one stage, taking up almost half of Reliant Stadium’s floor and accommodating approximately 8,000 guests per show.

Aerial acrobatics, exotic animals, dancers, contortionists and amazing stunts are some of the reasons to see the show, but the most compelling reason to see the circus, according to promoter Damon Pajak, is the value.

‘For the price of one ticket, you get three experiences,’ Pajak said. ‘We’re family entertainment and we have family-friendly prices.’

The value keeps the seats filled, for 21 shows in 10 days, with as many as three performances a day on weekends. The whole crew works hard to bring their fans as much show as possible.

‘We have good houses; all the shows are packed,’ Pajak said.

Tickets start at $16 and, to get the most out of the ticket, patrons can arrive 90 minutes before the show starts to see the animal open house and all-access pre show.

At the open house, visitors get to see elephants, tigers, ponies and trained dogs up close before they go onstage.

Forty-five minutes before the show, the animals start moving backstage to prepare for the spotlight. The preshow begins on the main stage where you can watch clowns, gymnasts and animal trainers performing warm-up acts in the middle of the crowd on three small stages.

During the preshow, guests can also enter a raffle for a painting by the circus’ own Kelly-Ann, one of the performing elephants. They can also try on some of the outfits previously worn by entertainers. The children can even take part in a juggling act.

The whole show runs about two hours, including a short intermission, but time passes quickly. The set-up time between acts is eaten up by short skits in which ringmaster Chuck Wagner and clown Tom Daugherty play off one another and fight over the ringmaster’s hat – the theme of the show.

The production opens with a classic skit by Daugherty and his fellow clowns segueing into the big opening number where Wagner’s Broadway experience serves the show well in song and showmanship.

Wagner and Daugherty drive the show from one awe-inspiring act to the next; with typical clown antics that serve to keep younger audience members in the show between canine acrobatics, the comedy act ‘Queen of the Clouds,’ the Kassaev Cossacks equine drill and the first-half finale ‘Globe of Steel,’ in which the Torres family squeeze seven roaring motorcycles into a 16-foot metal sphere.

The latter half of the show presents the traditional circus fare, with Daniel Raffo and eight trained tigers in a cage, trapeze artists, gymnasts, contortionists and a rainforest-inspired closing song, which brings all the performers back out on stage.

This year’s show keeps the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s tradition of the ‘greatest show on earth’ alive, and keeps the crowds returning for more by bringing in new talent each year while preserving the big top glitz and glam that makes a circus.

‘Every year the show is different,’ Pajak said. ‘That’s why I think people keep coming back – to see something new and exciting.’

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