As the theater filled with wide-eyed children, some young enough to walk stumblingly, others old enough to scramble ahead of their relatives to achieve that showy, defiant independence, I couldn’t help formulating some prejudices about what kind of show I was about to see. The circus, named Squirm Burbee: A Vaudvillian Melodrama, featured the enthusiastic, but constantly flouted, efforts of super villain Baron Vegan von Hamburger, the charming pun-prone duo called The Handsome Little Devils, and the endearingly awkward love interest, The Lovely Little Lolo. Together, and with much audience participation, this cast consciously worked to achieve a show that was, truly, entertaining for all ages.
While the dancing, juggling, cartwheeling and plate-tossing was, as expected, delightful to watch, the real value seemed to be in the attention to and interaction with the audience. Instances of “unwitting” wordplay was a source of amusement for older audience-members, such as Mike the Handsome asking his brother earnestly, “What’s love got to…got to do with it?” Or, when Baron Vegan Von Hamburger proclaims that, using his evil machine to capture audience applause and convert it to evil, he planned on “catching the clap from every single one of you!”
One segment that struck me as impressive was when Dashing Dave decided to find a helper from the audience to perform his Ladder of Love routine. He walked through the audience making comments on what he saw until he picked a woman and led her by the hand back to the stage. He proved himself to be equally entertaining while improvising, as he joked with the woman about her job as a speech therapist, and forced her to perform the three “positions of love.” He instructed her to hold the ladder steady so he could climb to the top and, after obligatorily mounting it in such a way that his backside would be pushed into her face, he asked her to let go. There was a moment when everybody held their breath looking at the woman’s hands hesitantly slipping away from the ladder, then a gasp as she instinctively grabbed on again, causing the ladder and Dashing Dave to fall to the floor.
He skillfully avoided injury and diffused tension by glaring at her and demanding to know whether she is a speech therapist for English, “Because I said to let go of the ladder on three, not let go, then grab on again, then push me down!” Everybody laughed and the trick was performed again with complete success and to exuberant applause.
The combination of exciting physical feats, foot-in-mouth wordplay, and visually captivating costumes and scene designs served to warm the hearts of the entire spectrum of viewers, and, even despite oneself, led to everybody cheering at the happy ending when Mike and Handsome and the Lovely Little Lolo get married.
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