CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age Of Circus Brings Its Exciting Vintage Big Top To Boston

Posted February 22, 2017 by Cheryl Fenton in Theater District
Don't miss a spectacular tribute to the golden age of circus. Photo courtesy of Boch Center.

When you think “circus,” you can’t escape the elephant in the room. Literally. No animal has been so closely identified with these playful performances as this gentle giant.

But because of society’s growing concern that they aren’t having as much fun as you are under the big top, early 2016 saw the very last elephants performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (#sorrynotsorry). In fact, as a nod to finding a more humane side of circus entertainment, fewer three rings are using these (and other exotic) animals as center stage spectacles. That doesn’t mean you have to write performing pachyderms off your must-see list, however.

Significant Object, the award-winning team of model makers and puppeteers behind the National Theatre’s War Horse in London, have designed and brought to life two African elephants for CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus. And Boston welcomes these glorious beasts composed of moldable mesh and pipe for the show’s East Coast debut March 8 through 12 at the Boch Center Wang Theatre.

There is certainly more than meets the eye to this show, as these performers astound audiences without animatronics or power. Yes, all the puppets you see in Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus are hand-operated. They rely only on the ingenuity, strength and know-how of human beings.

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Circus 1903 runs March 8-12. Photo courtesy of Boch Center

Speaking of strength, the elephant dynamic duo (a 10-foot tall mama and calf) is introduced alongside a gigantic cast of unique and dangerous circus acts from around the world. Ringmaster Willie Whipsnade takes you through the show. From acrobats to contortionists, strong men to musicians, knife throwers to high wire, this nod to turn-of-the-century circus spectaculars was created by producers of the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists (Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, and MagicSpace Entertainment). There’s the The Cycling Cyclone, the high wire acts of the Lopez family, teeterboard catapults by The Flying Fins, the foot juggling Rossi Brothers, and Elena Gatilova’s aerial ballet Lucky Moon. And we can’t forget The Great Gaston, who catches his clubs during this final juggling segment at a rate of about 265 times a minute.

The set itself is extraordinary, turning back to the clock to an old-timey big top tent designed by scenic artist Todd Ivins and constructed in five different countries – USA, England, Brazil, Spain, and Australia. The story moves from Act One set-up with trucks, props and rigging in front of the circus to Act 2’s “show time” as the tent, flagpoles and rigging is raised into the Wang’s roof.

The costume design for CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus is Angela Aaron’s imaginative handiwork, as she took authentic photographic collections, museum pieces and notes taken during chats with historians and turned them into pieces of wearable art. Composer Evan Jolly encapsulates the time period, recording the music for the show in Prague, London and Manchester.

Performances of CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus are Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 7pm, with matinees at 11am and 3pm on Saturdays; and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30 pm. From the sideways smirks of the witty Whipshade to the gravity-defying performers, this is one big top that gives an over-the-top show that, like an elephant, you will never forget.

Tickets are on sale at the Boch Center box office, through www.bochcenter.org or by calling (866) 348-9738. Boch Center Wang Theatre is located at 270 Tremont Street in Boston.