New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

Radio City Music Hall, Manhattan

“Zarkana! The name immediately conjures up a mysterious other-world. But, beyond that, words fail. There are no descriptive terms which meet the challenge of this Cirque du Soleil show, now in residence at Radio City Music Hall! One might make an attempt with “amazing,” “dazzling,” “extraordinary,” “mind-boggling.”

One cannot even place the show within a particular genre. Is it a circus, with its stunning acts, as its parent company suggests? Is it a rock opera, with its haunting music? Is it a Broadway show, with its spectacular stage sets.? Or a fusion of all three? Undoubtedly, a new genre has been created.

From the moment the curtains open, one overwhelming stage set blends into the next, and “Zarkana” is off and running. But even as one gives in to these visual fireworks, one is lost, storywise. Neither the onstage activities nor the program notes enlighten the viewer. There is not even a listing of the cast to be found in the printed program.

Only later research on one’s computer fills in the blanks. The story, apparently, concerns a magician who returns to an abandoned theater, planning to bring it to life. On hand are two clown friends, serving as helpers. But the magician has lost his powers, and he must find his former assistant and lover, to bring back those powers. Meanwhile, evil spirits are on hand to seduce him and thwart his goals. Ultimately he connects with his lady love and the theater—and the magician’s world—come gloriously to life.

Certainly these facts are not spelled out at Radio City Music Hall. But no matter. The true star of “Zarkana” is the staging, the never-ending array of worlds which unfold and engulf the viewer. And the incomparable circus acts blend in beautifully in this constantly shifting scene. The juggler, the acrobats, the aerialists are flawless—the best of circus performers in the business. Only the clowns, it must be acknowledged, are disappointingly unfunny. But this is indeed a minor quibble.

Back to the stage sets: In the opening act, evil dominates with nightmares that create a season in Hell--a veritable Hieronymous Bosch world. At times giant snakes take over. But gradually Heaven replaces Hell, order dominates over chaos, and love triumphs. In one such scene a clown is shot out of a cannon, floats in the heavens high above the audience, and is gradually surrounded by acrobats circling in hoops. Ultimately aerialists take over in the heavens. Whatever the individual acts, the entire ensemble blends into the moving, changing panorama.

Is this a children’s show? We think not. This is the stuff of nightmares, gorgeous though it is. But, for adults, a remarkable show, a truly memorable event!

--Irene Backalenick
Sept. 13, 2011

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