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'Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy' cast shines in spite of flawed production

Sure, you've seen it all before: the colorful aerialists flying effortlessly high above the stage, the acrobats and the clowns, the beefy shirtless guys who lift and balance each other in incredible displays of grace and power with vaguely homoerotic undertones.

So maybe it's nothing new, but it's still spectacular, especially live on stage where the potential for disaster heightens the excitement.

And that makes Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy an undeniable success, despite some undeniable flaws.

When the circus-style performers are onstage, the show, which runs through Sunday at the Mahaffey Theater, is wondrous, overflowing with delicious visual images and mind-boggling displays of imagination and athleticism.

But to turn the circus act into the theater, artistic director Neil Goldberg has inserted those performers into a contrived storyline and has punctuated their performances with 24 original songs, none of which is memorable and some of which are horrendous.

The narrative has to do with a traveler who finds himself in the jungle where he encounters Mother Nature, who sings inspirational songs to him.

What does that have to do with acrobats and aerialists? Well, nothing really, except that they're costumed as animals. With changes of scenery and attire, this show could easily be retitled Underwater Dreams or Arctic Dreams.

If you cared to get overly analytical, you could quibble with the animal choices. Two men in a balancing act are supposed to be giraffes, but giraffes (aside from being not especially renowned for balance) live on plains, not in jungles. And the delightful Pilobolus-inspired emus that appear throughout the show shouldn't even be on the same continent with giraffes and lions.

On a more substantial note, the jungle set, the mottled costumes and the candy-colored lights sometimes make the stage a visual mish-mosh that ends up detracting for the impact of the performers.

But the artists are sensational, and Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy offers more than its share of thrilling moments.

One highlight was the appearance of 12-year-old Amanda Puyot, who sang the at the beginning of the second act. She was selected to perform by Goldberg at an open audition at St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market.

The cast also features Amanda Restivo as Mother Nature and Jared Burnett as an onstage electric violinist (one of only two live musicians, who perform to a recorded track). Restivo has a powerful voice, despite the weak songs, and Burnett plays with fire and wields a commanding stage presence.

Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Fast Facts

If you go

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy runs through Sunday at the Mahaffey Theater. About 120 minutes. 2 and 7:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $30-$69. (727) 898-2100 or BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.

'Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy' cast shines in spite of flawed production 02/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 11:46pm]

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