'The Good Shepherd'

The Big Apple Circus returns to Gotham for its 30th anniversary season with another smile-inducing, family-friendly entry.

The Big Apple Circus returns to Gotham for its 30th anniversary season with another smile-inducing, family-friendly entry. With its relatively intimate setup — only 14 rows, with no patron more than 50 feet from the ring — founder and a.d. Paul Binder’s consistently professional (and nonprofit) operation is perhaps the finest up-front-and-close circus to be found in the States. Tour is booked in assorted East Coast venues through July.

The high points under this year’s big top are high indeed, with Kris Kremo sharing top honors. Why place a mere juggler as your first-act finale? The answer becomes apparent moments into the act: This fellow from Switzerland does quite a job. He works first with a red top hat — to the tune of John Kander’s “Hot Honey Rag” — before switching to balls and returning with three top hats, which he somehow manages to bobble back and forth on his head. For one tricky maneuver, he first flattens out his toupee (drawing wails of laughter from the under-8s).

Kremo is matched by the 11-person Kovgar Troupe, who plant various members on teeterboards and send them rocketing almost to the top of the tent. (One fellow on stilts does airborne twists and turns, safely landing — somehow — on the stilts.)

These are old-fashioned circus acts that still astound. No special effects, no flashy lights or new-age music; just strength and skill. There’s also a living statue act — a couple of strongmen and one equally strongwoman, covered in gold — who do two formations that brought forth gasps.

Barry Lubin inspired his usual share of laughter as that curly-wigged clown Grandma. He was joined by several more traditional zanies, including one — Fumagalli — who’s a very funny and welcome addition to the Big Apple (even if he did spit a geyser of water over this reviewer’s shirt). And let’s add a word for conductor Rob Slowik, who led the band, played numerous trumpet solos and climbed down from the bandstand to join Grandma for a mirthful comedy act.

In between these numerous winners came a few slow spots; some of the other specialty acts were proficient but less than inspired. If this Big Apple is not as consistent as last year’s, Kremo, the Kovgars and a few of their associates remind us just how entertaining a classic circus can be.

Big Apple Circus: Celebrate!

Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center; 1,609 seats; $84 top

Production

A Big Apple Circus presentation of a circus in two acts written by Michael Christensen and Michel Barette, with original music by David Bandman, Jeffrey W. Holmes, Brian Taylor and Michael Valenti. Directed by Michel Barette.

Creative

Choreography, Valerie Dean. Creative consultant, Barry Lubin. Music direction, Rob Slowik. Sets, Todd Rosenthal; costumes, Sarah G. Conly; lighting, Guy Simard; sound, Darby Smotherman. Opened Oct. 20, 2007. Reviewed Oct. 25. Runs through Jan. 13. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast

With: Paul Binder, Carrie Harvey, Nikolai Huesca, Giovanni Huesca, Grandma (Barry Lubin), Yelena Larkina, Fumagalli, Daris, Irina Markova, the Kovgar Troupe, Kris Kremo, Yasmine Smart, Andrey Mantchev, Virgile Peyramaure, Sarah Schwarz, Valdis Yanovskis, Cong Tian.

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