Review: ‘The Medicine Show’

Founded in 1977, the Big Apple Circus is the anti-Barnum, an intimate, non-techno, one-ring circusmixing clownplay and homey routines (there's always a mutt act) with guest stars culled from the international circuit. Each year the nonprofit company attaches a theme to the presentation; this year, the conceit is a turn-of-the-century medicine show, complete with elixir huckster Doc Pitchum (Todd Robbins) and settings that suggest the hinterland ambience of a pitchman's paradise.

Founded in 1977, the Big Apple Circus is the anti-Barnum, an intimate, non-techno, one-ring circusmixing clownplay and homey routines (there’s always a mutt act) with guest stars culled from the international circuit. Each year the nonprofit company attaches a theme to the presentation; this year, the conceit is a turn-of-the-century medicine show, complete with elixir huckster Doc Pitchum (Todd Robbins) and settings that suggest the hinterland ambience of a pitchman’s paradise.

These constructs are usually the weakest link in the Big Apple Circus presentations, and “Medicine Show” is no well, it’s no tonic. The writing is pallid, and Robbins keeps things earthbound whenever Doc Pitchum gets in the way of the show. Moreover, some of the acts seem a tad tired.

That said, there’s still wonderful material in abundance here, and kids are certain to be transfixed. Clown par excellence Barry Lubin’s Grandma character has been augmented by Greg DeSanto’s big, goofy Lucky; Katja and Max Schumann’s horses are as sleek and nimble-footed as ever, and so are William Woodcock’s performing elephants.

Moreover, Anatoli and Liubov Sudarchikov add a touch of Old World amazement with their quick-change-and-magic act (at least to this unapologetic fan of “Andre Heller’s Wunderhaus”), and the comic-tinged aerial pyrotechnics of the high-flying Eskin Troupe are mesmerizing.

The Medicine Show

Production

A Big Apple Circus presentation in two acts conceived and directed by Paul Binder. Musical direction by Rik Albani, music by Linda Hudes, clowning direction by Michael Christensen.

Crew

Sets, Thomas Baker; costumes, David Belugou; lighting, Jan Kroeze; sound, Jim van Bergen. Artistic director, Binder; creative director, Christensen; executive director, Gary Dunning. Opened Oct. 24, 1996, at Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center. Reviewed Oct. 27; 1,722 seats; $ 49 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

With

With: Todd Robbins, Barry Lubin, Greg DeSanto, Big Apple Circus Company and guest artists.
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