Cirque du Soleil's latest extravaganza has plenty of razzle-dazzle, but is only mildly entertaining.
Presented as a show within a show, Banana Shpeel is presided over by Shmelky (Danny Rutigliano), a theatrical impresario who is bringing us his "Cirque du Shmelky" with the aid of sidekicks Wayne (Wayne Wilson) and Daniel (Daniel Passer) and secretary Margaret (Shereen Hickman). While their comedic routines might have worked as a way to bridge the various circus acts within the show, Shiner has imposed a clunky and somewhat unoriginal storyline that bogs down the entire two-and-a-half-hour production.
In it, Shmelky starts out as a grouchy tyrant who is constantly yelling at his employees, and then turns over a new leaf. The conversion occurs in the first act finale, during a song (featuring lead vocals from Alexis Sims) whose lyrics can barely be heard over the too-loud band. And while there are inevitable second act complications, things end pretty much as you might expect.
Part of the problem is that Rutigliano lacks the kind of overwhelming stage charisma needed to make the part work. Similarly, the verbal banter between his assistants could use more comic punch. As for the rest of the show, the audience does get to see a couple of impressive acts, although not as many as one might like.
The highlight is a routine by Dima Shine (Dmitry Bulkin), a Russian hand balancer, who starts off in a Pierrot costume, before stripping most of it off to better display his muscular physique. The performer seems to defy gravity, moving with a balletic grace and a sensuous beauty. Also impressive are a trio of contortionists (Imin Tsydendambaeva, Ayagma Tsybenova, and Lilia Zhambalova) whose bodies twist and intertwine in ways that you might not think humanly possible.