A scene from Wintuk
(© OSA Images)
A scene from Wintuk
(© OSA Images)
Okay, perhaps bigger really is better. Wintuk, the new family-friendly show from Cirque du Soleil that has been specifically designed to be an annual holiday attraction at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden, is a much more low-thrill affair than the Quebecois' company's traditional extravaganzas.

Indeed, during much of the too-slowly-paced first act, long stretches of almost-nothingness fill the stage, as if the creators were afraid of overstimulating the kiddies. There are some exciting acts, to be sure; notably a bicyclist with a remarkable sense of balance, a man walking a clothesline with enormous skill, a gentleman whose facility with handstands must be seen to be believed, and a female contortionist who makes a scarily convincing rag doll.

But too much time is wasted in setting up the story of a young city dweller who's disappointed that it hasn't snowed yet and is ultimately transported to a magical land where that dream -- and a few others -- finally come true. Not even singing lampposts and oversized sheepdogs -- one of whom sounds like a rap star -- can fully compensate for the slight sense of ennui.

Fortunately, all that changes with the jam-packed second act, which takes place in the magical Wintuk. Here, many of the company's trademark thrills take center stage one after another: women spinning inside hoops; another contortionist whose dance with a group of silver hoops is simply breathtaking; a pair of enchanting female aerialists; and a group of pole jumpers who would put the greatest Olympic athletes to shame.

As with any Cirque show, there are some gorgeous costumes to behold and moments of truly awe-inspiring wonder, including the emergence of giant ice monsters who threaten to destroy Wintuk. (It's the one part of the show that might be a bit too frightening for the youngest theatergoers.) On the down side, the music, one of Cirque's most beloved elements, is more pop-oriented than exotic, complete with some rather banal songs vocalized by those adorable lamposts.

Without question, all caveats are momentarily forgiven at the show's finale, when "snow" envelops the WaMu. However, had the big finish come a good 30 minutes sooner -- the show runs two hours with an intermission -- Wintuk would have been a truly win-win situation, and not so hit-and-miss.