Seventh of a series

NEW YORK —  “Water for Elephants,” a circus-themed love and flashback story, is an amazing  and ambitious stage creation. It has lot of heart and soul, an energetic ensemble of acrobatic actors working alongside real-life performers from The Big Top, and a number of puppets manipulated with sheen and savvy, making them life-like.

This spectacle, based on the novel by Sara Gruen and a film by the same name, is a grand, gorgeous and gargantuan spectacle, something rarely seen on Broadway. Kudos to director Jessica Stone for creating such stupendous splendor.  Once inside the Imperial Theatre and the circus tents are up (on stage) you feel you’re amid the real deal, minus the sawdust.

If nothing else, go to see Rosie, the size of a baby elephant,  with awesome eyes that twinkle that you imagine she’s also smiling. She is, after all, the star of the circus, and her entrance is a beauty – she arrives in body parts, with handlers providing animation, so you witness flopping ears, her legs, her trunk, and finally, that face with those adorable eyes. Hard to fathom that her fate and status (think maintenance cost, like H2O, in a Depression-vintage circus) become a focal point of her residency.

Rosie comes to life, thanks to the puppetry of Caroline Kane, Paul Castree, Michael Mendez, Charles South and Sean Stack.

The Big Top is in full glory, with aerial acrobats and a stageful of carnies.

Silver Star, a stunning white horse puppet, is also memorable and enticing. Marlena (Isabelle McCall) is the stallion’s handler, and the horse undoubtedly is in pain. It takes two (Antoine Boissereau, operates the head and flowing mane, and Keaton Hentoff-Killian picking up the rear) to bring it to life. When Silver Star is airborne, its body of silk fabric soars in a poignant but painful acrobatic display of loss and emotion.

Marlena (Isabelle McCalla), with Silver Horse puppeteer Antoine Boissereau)

But into each life, some pain must fall – with Silver Star faltering, August the ringmaster (Paul Alexander Nolan, perfectly stubborn and deflective) doesn’t want to lose the horse. Death means loss of revenue. His temper causes friction with his wife, the Marlena character.

With the device of a narrator, Mr. Jankowski (played by Gregg Edelman, engaging and endearing), there’s reflection of circuses past. In the days of his youth, Jacob Jankowski (portrayed by Grant Gustin, dashing and commanding) and there are occasional connections, channeling the story.

The love story entails the rocky relationship of the Marlena and August characters.

The flashback element feels like a carnie’s memories of the circus “then,” fused to the “now” like a father and son liaison thought the characters are one.

The musical score, by a seven-member PigPen Theater Co., fuels a canopy of touching, poignant moments. Choreographers Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll are visionaries, with incredible aerial dynamics coupled with lively movements by the carnies. The show’s book by Rick Elice, borrows from the film.

Another view of the aerial dynamics in “Water for Elephants.”

And the aforementioned Shana Carroll also is circus designer, enabling various elements of the genre: triangular big tops, cords and cords and more cords for acrobatics.

Of all the new Broadway shows I’ve seen in a week, I have faith that “Water for Elephants” should win the Best New Musical laurel in Sunday’s Tony Award. I’ve not seen the “Hell’s Kitchen,” which has garnered the most nominations (13) going into the competish, so yes, “Elephants” is a dark horse. And Takeshi Kata’s design for “Elephants” – with style, flair and imagination — is positively the Best Scenic Designer of a Musical…

And that’s Show Biz…

Leave a Reply