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Circus, Musical Offer Family Fun For the New York Holiday Season

By Frank ScheckSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 1993



NEW YORK

BIG APPLE CIRCUS At Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center.

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IF you plan on spending the holidays in New York City, two entertainments have opened that are suitable for the whole family: The Big Apple Circus, in their newest edition, ``Carnevale in Venice,'' and the Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's perennially popular ``Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.''

The Big Apple Circus makes an annual stand in New York, setting up a large tent in Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center. Every edition revolves around a particular theme; this year it's Venice, employing settings, costumes, and music reminiscent of the city and the commedia dell'arte.

Although it is not one of the strongest outings the circus has offered, myriad pleasures can still be found. Among the highlights: The Collins Brothers, the best act I've seen to employ the trapeze for comic effect; Serve Percelly, the clear audience favorite, who juggles multiple tennis rackets with amazing speed and dexterity; the Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe, a Chinese company that uses bungee cords to propel their bodies through space; Glen Cinolodi, who offers an amazing hand-balancing act, accompanied by an adorable poodle; and Vesta Geschkova and Eli Milcheva, two dazzling gymnasts who perform with hoops and streamers.

Comic relief is added by guest clowns Romano and Alfredo Colombaioni, who are not afraid to get youngsters into their act. (If your kids are skittish, keep them away from ringside). And since no circus would be complete without animals, there are prancing horses and a family of dancing elephants. The evening is presided over by the genial Paul Binder, the founder and artistic director.

One of the primary virtues of the Big Apple Circus is its intimacy. Unlike the Ringling Brothers Circus, this one-ring extravaganza is offered in a tent accommodating no more than 1,700 people, ensuring that every seat is close enough to the action to actually smell the animals.

This is the 16th season for the Circus, which has become a treasured holiday institution in New York. It runs through Jan. 9, and ticket prices range from $10 to $47.50.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT Musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the Minskoff Theatre.

SAY what you will about ``Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,'' it won't go away. This audience-pleaser, which began its existence as a cantata for a boys' choir (composed by Webber and Rice when they were in their 20s) has steadily grown through the years. It was last seen on Broadway in a modest revival 10 years ago, but its current incarnation is in one of New York's largest theaters, the Minskoff, and rivals any Webber production. It recently set a record for the largest one-week gross for any theatrical presentation in Los Angeles.

This show has a tradition of serving as a vehicle for teeny-bopper stars (Donny Osmond, David Cassidy), and the new Joseph on the block is soap-opera heartthrob and pop singer Michael Damian (``The Young and the Restless''), whose chiseled physique is one of the production's main attractions, thanks to the loincloth he wears for most of the evening. Damian has an engaging presence and a whispery tenor (almost reminiscent of Michael Crawford) that serves the score well, but this is by no means a star-making performance, despite the screams of his female fans.

The musical, which tells the Biblical story of Joseph's abandonment by his brothers and his subsequent servitude to the Pharaoh of Egypt, still manages to retain its youthful sunniness and charm even in this overblown production, which features gargantuan sets, flashing lights, and a huge cast, including a chorus of at least 50 kids (they were only outnumbered by the ones in the audience). Webber and Rice's score is an engagingly eclectic collection of songs in various styles, from country to pop to rock 'n roll.

The cast is largely undistinguished, except for an entertaining Elvis-like turn by Robert Torti as the Pharaoh, complete with blue-suede shoes. Probably the biggest miscalculation, and of course, the most popular segment of the show, is a hideous ``Joseph Megamix'' closer, in which the entire score is reprised in a thumping, pounding disco version, complete with the cast gyrating about in white leotards. Still, if you're looking for family entertainment on Broadway this holiday season, ``Joseph'' is the only new show in town.