Cirque-A-Palooza and the Road to Get There: What a Long, Strange Trip
Reviewed and Photographed by Heather Thompson
Pasadena Playhouse | 39 S. El Molino Avenue | Pasadena CA | 91101
“A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.” —Jack Kerouac, On the Road
The road is a powerful metaphor. Roads signal the start of a journey, they are an end to a journey, and they are the destination all at once. So it seems fitting that when Cirque du Soleil comic act designer, casting partner, and master teacher, Stefan Haves decided to create Cirque-A-Palooza, he would build the centerpiece of the festival themed around a celebration of the road.
Cirque-A-Palooza is a three-weekend festival, featuring comedy, music, and magic. The Road to Palooza: A Cirque Variety Spectacular is the festival’s main stage performance, with rotating special guests and an ensemble cast. This is a introduction of new talent and a commemoration of a not-yet-forgotten past. If you loved Sammy Davis Jr. or Martin and Lewis routines, this show will feel familiar. It is the girl you loved, going in the opposite direction.
With The Road to Palooza, Haves has assembled a variety show you might have seen before the demise of vaudeville. Freak show and juggler comics, Cirque-caliber aerialists, commedia del arte clowns, and musicians that have been brought together in a rough and zany fashion to delight and entertain. These performers are some of the best in the world at their craft—but they are also full of silly humor and cheesy songs. What ties the lowbrow comedy and the highbrow acrobatics together is a general feeling of fun and a breaking of the fourth wall that is utterly appealing. Audience members are invited to get up and dance, take pictures, and hashtag #cirqueapalooza to their content.
This is the show that the performers would put on for each other. The juggler dropped his pancake (more on that later), the sword swallower even choked up just a little bit of the spaghetti from his dinner (I’ll leave that one alone). That said, even before the show started, I felt like I was in on the jokes, maybe even sitting in Stefan’s living room, dancing a little too wildly and drinking more than I should. So along with other performers, the audience and I cheered the successes, forgave foibles, and generally had a delightful time doing so.
It was perfectly imperfect. And the imperfections were what I loved most. The joy of live theater, after all, is that not everything will go exactly as planned. The best artists don’t just allow that variability and roll with it—they revel in it.
Highlights of the show: A puppeteer named Godfrey Daniels wearing a headdress and elongated arms playing with his balloon. Yes, I know how that sounds. But trust me—the silent comedy was singularly the most charming part of the show. It was a Shel Silverstein poem brought to life.
All of the acrobats were insanely flawless. The grace of the hand balancer, the beauty of the aerialists, the athleticism of the ring dancer, the strength of the trapeze artist, and the joyful coordination of the hula hooper—these skillful performers couldn’t be outdone.
One of my favorite performers of the night was juggler Scot Nery who cooked a pancake onstage, juggled and told insulting jokes while it was cooking, and then flipped his pancake several times up in the air. His most difficult trick was to turn three times with the pancake in the air and then catch it in the pan. He failed the trick twice, and almost fell off the stage on his second attempt. He then jumped off the stage grabbed what was now a sort of glob of pancake and finished the act with frantic and fun energy. The audience laughed uproariously.
Now – I haven’t even mentioned the musicians. An emcee with musical duties could also be heard clapping aloud or gasping at the daredevil acrobatics. The musicians played in unison with the comedians, all the while incorporating their own off-the-cuff musical jokes. Some worthy musical highlights were covers of the Proclaimer’s I’m Gonna Be (500 miles), Chumbawumba’s Tubthumper, a medley of Road-themed songs with the ensemble cast, and, for the finale, Leonard Cohen’s poignant Hallelujah.
Everything simply felt fresh, raw, and spontaneous. Everyone had come to have a good time, be with family, and enjoy, without irony, the warmth of craft.
(ATOD Editor, Dawn Garcia: While I didn’t have the pleasure of attending this performance, I can say that I have learned first hand the truly colorful mind of Stefan Haves. No doubt that this show was visually spectacular, full of wit and that beautiful age-old comedic timing that is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, and the present whimsical meanderings of Stefan Haves himself. Thank you to the Pasadena Playhouse yet again for housing a playful and truly upbeat event.)
THIS WEEKEND: The Road to Palooza. Tickets available NOW at http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org
Cirque-A-Palooza is at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Carrie Hamilton Theater through August 10, 2013. Regular ticket prices are $30 for a single Mainstage festival event and $20 for a single event ticket in the Carrie Hamilton Theater. For more information and a full schedule of Cirque-a-Palooza events, visit http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org