Top Fun at the Big Top: Show Review by Jo Mispiel

bigapplecircusoctoberTaking early leave of a Halloween gathering, my Luke Skywalker five year old son, baby sister and I headed excitedly to our first Big Apple Circus. With distant memories of my own childhood, I was looking forward to my son experiencing the immediacy of a classic circus show, but without the concerns for animal performers (Big Apple shares the stage only with well cared for domestic and rescue animals) . I was also curious to see what this award winning, 38 year old New York institution would present.

The ‘Big’ Top sits in the Damrosch Park area of the Lincoln Center off 62nd Street, Manhattan. We entered the tent in a bustle of people.. We passed through the first tent which sold typical fun fair food and some flashing light toys and circus merchandise. We were then ushered gently into the main tent which was big enough to impress the little ones but small enough, and with seats close enough, to the inner ring to feel intimate. The slight smell of dirt and animals was a jolt of nostalgia for me and no doubt a lot of the adults.

Let the show begin.

Ring Master John Kennedy Kane and the two wonderful multi-talented clowns, Joel Jeske (also the writer and creator of the show!) and Brent Macbeth come out and introduce The Grand Tour theme. With wonderful Big Band sound from the seven piece Big Apple Circus band we leaned forward to learn that we were traveling back to the 1920’s and the advent of modern travel. What a great excuse this turned out to be for fun imagery and great music from a glamorous era of transportation.

Starting with a very impressive hula hoop act from ninth generation performer Chaira Anastasini, we knew we were in for a spectacle. And what a perfect audience we were. My son was genuinely awestruck and slapped and squealed and wowed flamboyantly. Even my eight month old daughter took to bouncing and flailing in my arms. They were totally transported by the event in the way I had hoped. My son was thrilled by the acrobats, especially the breath taking antics of the Dominguez brothers on the “Wheel of Wonder” – a massive metal contraption suspended in the ring that they spun using the counterweights of their bodies. It went faster and faster and held us all spell bound and concerned as they played at nearly falling, without any safety nets. He also loved the Dosov Troupe, dressed as pilots who trampolined impressive flights through the air. Where as I had a more appreciative understanding of the strength and stretch involved with the graceful Energy Trio, or the high energy antics of the African acrobats section by the Zuma Zuma Troupe. My baby girl seemed mesmerized by the beautiful horses. It was thrilling to see them up close and unadorned. The boy is still talking about the clowns and their slapstick interludes. He thought they were hysterical. I am now part of a living room (think small) circus act with him that basically involves us falling over and or me swinging him around. This is clear evidence of how impressed he was.

The show runs for 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 20 minute intermission, a perfect amount of stimulation for the wee ones. The interval was ample time to use the bathrooms and buy cotton candy or other goodies. My son really didn’t want to leave his seat in case he missed something, even though he had the option of a pony ride in the ring which was hugely popular with the other kids.

This non-profit circus breathes it’s mission of engaging joyfully with the community, not only with these big top shows but outreach programs that go to pediatric hospitals and residential care facilities as well as other work they do for children with special needs. They also do a specially adapted performance of the show for children on the autism spectrum and another for those with vision or hearing impairments or other disabilities. This circus has a heart it wants to share. I would highly recommend using whatever transit available, even if it’s not as glamourous as that in the 20’s, to get to this delightful show.

For more information, and to purchase tickets, go to the website: