by Naomi Donabedian

Cirque Du Soleil, the legendary French-Canadian circus entertainment company, has landed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Audiences have come to regard Cirque’s shows as a blend of whimsical story telling, costumes, and sets populated by impossibly talented circus artists. Banana Shpeel, running from May until the end of August 2010, retreats from Cirque’s tented surreal history and steps uptown to New York City’s glamorous Beacon Theater.

Banana Shpeel is a vaudeville show within a Cirque show with a twist of ironic self-awareness. In one scene, as a flamboyant mime pranced across the stage, the cynical cigar-chomping lead Schmelky quipped that the ladee-dah French are into that kind of thing–a jab at Cirque’s artsy reputation. Perhaps the creators are aware of their Manhattan home, taking advantage of audience goers who may be more comfortable in a Broadway style show rather then Cirque’s magical big top. Banana Shpeel may be winning some new fans with this ticket, but reviews from the show’s previous Chicago location prove they have disappointed much of their base.

As the show went on, glitter, glitz, black light and live music complimented what we came to see: the talent. Tap dancers, singers, and vaudeville acts mixed with circus style contortionists, acrobats, jugglers, and more appear throughout Banana Shpeel. Some acts transitioned more smoothly then others. Hat juggler Tuan Le’s act was a welcome fit with traditions in both vaudeville and the circus. Tuan manipulated 4 bowler hats head, to hand, to foot, pirouetting and kicking up with ease. Tuan’s sombrero style flying hats soared high into the theater for a lofty spectacle. World class antipodist Vanessa Alvarez stunned the crowd with her foot juggling skill. As the show’s center piece, Dima Shine’s hand balancing acrobatics on a pole warped the laws of gravity bending and balancing in any direction he pleased.

Preview tickets of Banana Shpeel are currently open to the public. The show fully opens May 21st. On a visit to Dubé this week Banana Shpeel‘s always on and always kooky clown Claudio Carneiro alluded that the show continues to improve. Any direction Banana Shpeel slip and slides guarantees a funny fall!

Tuan Le & Vanessa Alvarez
Vanessa Alvarez and Tuan Le outside the Beacon Theater.
Photo by Raymond Bono.

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