In the wings | with John Fleming

Cirque Dreams founder sets his creation apart

Neil Goldberg gets asked the same question all the time: What's the difference between Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy and Cirque du Soleil?

Goldberg is founder of Cirque Productions, the Pompano Beach producer of Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, which opens tonight at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. He also produces similar shows such as Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Cirque Dreams Illumination and Cirque Dreams Pandemonia.

Goldberg's productions are frequently confused with those of Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal company with shows in Las Vegas, Orlando and other permanent venues, as well as companies that tour the world in circus tents. Here's what he had to say in recent a phone interview.

So what is the difference between your shows and Cirque du Soleil?

I have said since day one that I'm a theater guy. My goal has always been theater blended with circus artistry. Other companies are circuses and claim to integrate elements of theater.

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy has a story about a young adventurer who wanders into a jungle and encounters a character in the role of Mother Nature who is played by a Broadway musical actress. She narrates and sings his journey of courage and emotion. Besides world-class acrobatics, there's an adventure that is much more typical of what you would see in a Lion King or a Mary Poppins or a Little Mermaid than you would expect to see in a circus.

Originally were you inspired by Cirque du Soleil?

When I produced my first show in the late 1980s, I never even knew that Cirque du Soleil was in existence. I was a corporate meeting and event planner, and I was hired by IBM to create an entertainment concept for their launch of a new brand. I did cirque-style shows for IBM, General Electric, General Motors and other corporations. My first theater production was Cirque Ingenieux, in 1993, for Bally's casino and hotel in Atlantic City.

Has Cirque du Soleil objected?

In the late 1990s, they filed a trademark infringement suit against us. They actually filed it against every entity in the United States that was using the word "cirque," trying to protect the word as their trademark. Most of the companies either folded or changed their names, but I felt strongly about the legitimacy of what I had created, so I stayed in the ring. The legal battle lasted in federal court for six years, and I prevailed.

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy had a Broadway run last year. How's the tour compare to it?

The Broadway show had 29 performers onstage. The cool thing about the tour is that even though it's only 26 performers, it's the original Broadway cast.

What's the most boffo act in the show?

Well, they are all fabulous, but we have a young man from Russia who is a percussionist and plays the role of a frog. Five years ago he started picking up the art of juggling. Long story short, he sits on a lily pad with a set of drums and cymbals, but instead of playing them with drumsticks, he plays them with nine juggling balls.

Chamber music

The Encore chamber music series begins its six-concert season tonight at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Quartet de Minaret — Lei Liu, violin; Libor Ondras, viola; Lowell Adams, cello; and Grigorios Zamparas, piano — will play works of Faure, Turina and Gwyneth Walker (Letters to the World: Reflections on the Poetry of Emily Dickenson) at 7:30 p.m. $10-$20. (727) 822-3590; mypalladium.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

If you go

You have 8 chances

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy has eight shows through Sunday at Mahaffey. $30-$69. (727) 898-2100 or BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.

Cirque Dreams founder sets his creation apart 02/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 9:09am]

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