Before the show, Director Nicholas Allen comes out to remind the audience that one of the things we should do is laugh. But his encouragement is hardly necessary. We can’t help but laugh because this production is brimming with funny moments, which, together with the poignant ones, make it a true winner.
By the end of the opening scene, we’ve completely forgotten that there is no dialogue. Through the acting and the music, we learn that The Fool (Nicholas Allen), is at the circus with his sweetheart, The Girl (Kelsey Meiklejohn). The Fool is a bit of a bumbler in his efforts to buy cotton candy, impress his date and get a kiss. But when The Girl is captured by the Strongman (Ryan Mitchell) – and put in a cage – The Fool hurries to rescue her. He fights off a circus lion (tiger?), saves the day, and finally – thanks to The Girl’s assertiveness – gets his elusive kiss. The Strongman, meanwhile, allows himself to be convinced to give up on The Girl and turn his attention to his Assistant (Madeleine Russell).
All four cast members do a superb job of pulling us into this story with their comical expressions and jesticulations. Ryan Mitchell and Madeleine Russell get us giggling early as circus performers. Kelsey Meiklejohn, tasked with having to show a range of emotions from anger to fear, disgust to love, transitions easily between them. And Nicholas Allen is both the perfect “Fool” and one of the best fake snorers I’ve ever heard.
Humor is all about timing, and that’s why so much of this show is funny. The synchronized physical moves, exaggerated facial expressions and reactions are what make us laugh so heartily. The scene when The Fool and Clown 1 work together to steal the keys away from the Strongman is so perfectly timed I wish it’d lasted longer. So did the three-year-old next to me, I gather, since he was laughing so hard his mother had to tell him to quiet down. Funny surprises abound, such as when the Strongman reaches into his trunk, ostensibly for some object to torture The Girl with, only to pull out … you’ll have to see it!
Okay, call me sentimental, but the scene where The Fool falls asleep and dreams of finding The Girl is so beautifully choreographed, it’s simply breathtaking. Kelsey Meiklejohn’s dance training is fully evident here, and Nicholas Allen gives a good performance, too.
The choice of classical and opera music is a refreshing change for a kids’ show and each piece is cleverly appropriate. When one of the themes from Carmen came on a kid behind me said, “I know this song!” Maybe more could be made of the use of these classics, such as listing them for reference in the program.
Congratulations to the Synetic Family Theater, winner of this year’s Helen Hayes Award in the Theatre for Young Audiences category, for producing a show which doesn’t depend on excessive slapstick or endless bathroom humor to make kids laugh. As Nicholas Allen states in the program, The Fool at the Circus is part old silent film and part cartoon, but he’s taken out the ridiculous aspects of those genres and added enough modern twists to make today’s kids – and adults – able to relate to and sympathize with his characters. Full of charm, this is a show the whole family should see.
The Fool at the Circus
By Nicholas Allen
Directed and choreographed by Nicholas Allen
Produced by Synetic Family Theater
Reviewed by Miriam Chernick
The Fool at the Circus play through May 16th at Synetic Family Theater, Arlington, VA.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.