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Fantastic costumes, updated events give Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus new feel

When the acrobats go flying at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, try to focus for a second on what they're wearing. The costumes have as good a resume as the performers. They were designed by Susan Hilferty, Tony Award winner for her costume design for Wicked and now the designer for Wonderland, the Frank Wildhorn musical playing at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa and bound for Broadway. Hilferty has been dividing her time between circus rehearsals at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa and Wonderland rehearsals at the Straz. The circus job is especially huge: 60 different designs for 400 costumes total.

The 141st edition of the Greatest Show On Earth — called Fully Charged this year — has many of the traditional circus acts you saw as a kid, but the show has evolved for a new generation. Here's a look. — Times staff

Where's the remote?

Today's kids are wired for fast-paced Super Mario Bros. on Wii, so the circus has made some adjustments, says circus impresario Kenneth Feld. The once sprawling three-hour show now clocks in at a quick two hours and five minutes, still using the same cast of 130. Plus there are two opportunities to interact. Beginning 90 minutes before each show, families can get up close with the animals in a free open house. An hour before showtime, ticketholders can meet performers, learn circus skills, take photos and get autographs.

Clowns creep you out?

Hardly seems worth the price of admission if your kid wails every time the guy with the big red nose comes near. But there's hope. Before the show, kids can see the clowns put on their makeup, so they recognize the person doing the stunts later.

What else?

This never gets old: A guy — the Human Fuse, natch — gets shot out of cannon. You'll also see jugglers tossing up to six objects while standing on the back of galloping Hungarian Coldblood horses, plus the popular clown, elephant and tiger shows.

If you go

Shows are 7:30 p.m. today and Friday, 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. $15-$85. St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 301-2500.

Fantastic costumes, updated events give Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus new feel 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 3:30am]

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