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Circus Oz

This dazzling Australian troupe takes a fresh and fanciful approach to the familiar. logo
Michael Ling in Circus Oz
(© Ponch Hawkes)
There are times during the dazzlingly ditzy Circus Oz at the New Victory Theater when you begin to wonder if these wildly talented performers are from Australia, as advertised, or if they're actually supernatural beings from the actual Land of Oz.

The subtitle of the show is The Laughing at Gravity Tour, and the performers surely do defy gravity with stunts done on poles, ropes, bicycles, and trapeze swings. Little of what they do is what you would call conventional circus fare, though much of it has its roots in circus traditions. This modest-sized troupe has an outsized talent for taking a fresh and fanciful approach to familiar circus acts.

Under the artistic direction of Mike Finch, the show consists mostly of discreet, small acts that flow with wit and style from one to the next. Moreover, this is a show that uses its low-tech limitations to great advantage. Consider an accordion player using her instrument like a cape while a performer riding a small bicycle pretends to be a bull. One might describe their act as elegant, funny, and amazing.

There is also a hilarious singing stuntman (does everyone in Australia sing?), a strongwoman who has three brick slates smashed on her stomach, and a remarkable juggler who, at one point, juggles without looking at the balls she has spinning in the air.

The show begins before the curtain goes up, so you are advised to arrive early, especially if you're bringing kids to the estimable New Victory; the performers are out in the house, making themselves known to the audence. (What's Australian for "schmoozing?") As a result, we already have a sense of them as real people when they start performing their magic on stage.

The first act flows like the wind, that wind the apparent result of the audience's laughter. It ends with the full troupe on stage in what develops into a comically crazy Rube Goldberg routine, complete with a collapsing piano. The second act is a bit slower and a touch more cerebral.

Even so, John Doyle -- director of the recent revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company -- would be proud of the Circus Oz folks. Not only do they perform incredible stunts and participate in other acts that require entirely different skill sets, they all play musical instruments as well!

Most of the acts in the show are impressive in a kooky sort of way. Not all of them will knock you out, but so many will that this could easily become your favorite circus in New York. Right now, it's ours.

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