New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

Radio City Music Hall

Back to the gym! After seeing all those toned bodies hurtling through the air at the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, what else can one do? The pumped-up, eye-popping circus acts at Radio City Music Hall, defy aging as well as gravity.

What started 27 years ago with a group of 20 Canadian street performers has exploded into a company with 5,000 employees and 1,500 performers in 50 countries. We mention the statistics because the self-described “acrobatic rock opera” defies reticence.

And you don’t even have to know what the title, “Zarkana,” actually means although a superb singer named Paul Bisson wanders throughout as Zark, a magician of sorts. There’s another fine vocalist, Meetu Chilana, but she’s less cryptically named “Female Lead Singer.” Supposedly, she’s the lost love whom Zark seeks, but don’t count on any more enlightenment than that.

As written and directed by François Girard, the spectacle is familiar though daring in its circus aspects and weird and gothic in how it’s presented. In some respects, it’s akin to a surrealist Buñel film, one of those seemingly familiar scenes that are filled with sudden danger and unexpected sights.

Thus, during a flag-throwing sequence, one of the clowns crosses upstage, suitcase in hand, balancing himself on a huge ball. At another point, the proscenium, decorated with snakes, seems to come alive as reptile projections cover the stage frame.

Then there’s the image of a drowning infant caught in a bubble of water, a woman dressed as a bird, another woman who wields a whip. And floating eyes, à la Salvador Dali.

And, of course, the show is filled with clowns, those most mysterious creatures. Unlike other Cirque shows, these guys are actually funny, when they’re not being threatening. (A bald guy next to me had his pate spray-washed, dried with a squeegee and crowned with a rug fragment.)

But it’s the circus acts that most astound, starting with a woman juggling more balls than would be used up in a U. S. Open match. An aerial duet finds a couple entangling themselves in ropes, followed by an amazing woman who tumbles in the air before landing on a bar. You hold your breath for her and for the sensational high wire, trapeze and wheel of death sequences.

One of the most exquisite moments is the quietest. At the beginning of the second half, sand painter Erika Chen creates buildings, faces and figures with balletic hand gestures.

One figure is a spider, which leads to the evening’s wildest though perhaps unintended joke. It’s a take-off or rip-off or homage to that troubled Broadway show, “Spider-Man,” complete with gigantic web and flying bodies.

It’s probably not meant as anything, however. For “Zarkana,” with its gorgeous costumes, imaginative scenery, haunting music and quick pacing is geared mainly towards enchanting eyes and ears. Instead of yearning for anything deeper, relax, enjoy and wallow in the Art Deco magnificence of the Music Hall.

--David A. Rosenberg
July 5, 2011

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