Circuses, Dolly Jacobs says, are like restaurants. Every one is different.
But, as Jacobs notes, most Americans got their first taste of the circus through the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and they tend to think that earthy and bombastic type of circus defines the genre.
Circus Sarasota's Summer Circus Spectacular offers a different kind of circus experience. It's fast-paced and funny enough to delight kids, and elegant and amazing enough to edify adults.
The hour-long show, set on the proscenium stage of the Historic Asolo Theater, includes lots of familiar circus elements: a clown, a ringmistress, jugglers and an aerial act.
It doesn't include animals acts, motorcycles or people being shot out of cannons.
The Summer Circus Spectacular plays more like theater or vaudeville than the three-ring big-top circus that most people are familiar with. After a brief wordless introduction by Kirk Marsh -- who's billed as a comedian but could be called a clown, a mime or a juggler -- five acts take to the stage one-by-one, introduced by ringmistress Bailey Sloan.
Among the highlights are a lovely aerial dance by Jacobs, an international circus legend and the co-founder of Circus Sarasota, and a very funny routine by Marsh.
Marsh is a phenomenally inventive comic, whose physical work and charming stage persona enthralled the crowd. One long segment had him tossing his red bowler hat into the audience, and audience members caught it and threw it back. Marsh would catch it on his head.
It doesn't sound like much. In fact, it doesn't sound like anything. But Marsh made it hilarious. The audience didn't seem to want that bit to end.
Marsh relies heavily on audience participation, and he pulled a couple of youngsters up onto the stage to be part of his act. It's a risky move that often turns embarrassing, but Marsh made it look easy, and his volunteers ended up being entertaining themselves.
There are really no weak links in the show. Sebastian St. Jules, a teenage juggler, wowed the audience by bounce-juggling balls of a keyboard, playing recognizable songs without missing a note or a beat. The Alvarez Family is billed as teeterboard artists but members performed some amazing and obviously dangerous stunts. The Anastasini Brothers, a duo of Risley artists (a circus form that involved one person juggling the other with his feet), performed some feats that seemed impossible to imagine, let alone accomplish.
If you're old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan Show you'll remember seeing some of acts similar to these on TV. Seeing them live, in an intimate theater, is a different experience, more immediate and more thrilling.
Kids dominate the audience, and they're so engaged in the show that their energy is contagious. Even the grown-ups end up being invigorated, and some may end up looking at the circus arts with a fresh eye.
Details: Through Aug. 1, Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Show times: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $15 adults, $12 children age 12 and younger. Information: 941-360-7399, ringling.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.