March 13, 2010

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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

At the age of 43, Steve Kelley can finally cross ''run away with the circus'' off his childhood to-do list.

Kelley, of Cape Elizabeth, was plucked out of the audience Thursday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center during a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

A comic master of ceremonies with a French accent named Justin Case coerced Kelley into volunteering, made him stand on his head, almost rode over him on a unicycle, and then used him as a platform for a hand-stand.

The version of the 137-year-old ''Greatest Show On Earth'' that opened Thursday is called ''Boom A Ring'' and is touted as an interactive event. Kelley can certainly vouch for that.

''It was great, how often do you get a chance to be in the circus,'' said Kelley, who was at the show with his wife and three children. He added that having the French comic do a hand-stand on him wasn't as hard as it looked. ''He only weighs like a 140 pounds.''

The two-hour, one-ring show Thursday was fast-paced and a little nontraditional. There was no master of ceremonies, no announcing of the names of acts, and no old-fashioned clowns. Besides Case, who was the comic star of the show with his wisecracks and daredevil bicycle antics, there were only two other clown-like comedic performers.

And neither of them had heavy clown makeup or wild hair. Which is probably just as well, since so many children are afraid of clowns, including my five-year-old daughter. But she was delighted by the low-key clowning comics she saw Thursday.

The interactive theme of the show started an hour before the circus, at a 6 p.m. preshow held before all performances of ''Boom A Ring.'' People with tickets to the show were invited to step into the ring, try on costumes, pose for pictures with performers, watch snippets of acts and even try some circus equipment.

There was, for a instance, a low-slung trapeze that kids could swing on with the help of muscular male performers. Cassidy Brown, 8, of Portland, was one of the many children who waited in line to swing like a real ''girl on the flying trapeze.''

''Now I want to do those rings,'' Cassidy said, pointing to a pair of rings hanging about 20 feet above the circus floor.

Some of the more usual acts included Finnish archer Martti Peltonen putting on a bold crossbow demonstration. For his finale, he set up two banks of about 12 crossbows with targets attached to each. Then, he stood in the crossfire, shot at a target, and triggered a flurry of arrows that ended with one spearing an apple on his head.

There were cute animals, of course. Russian dog-trainer Diana Vedyashkina had her trained dachshunds jumping and dancing and pretending to sleep. Elephants stood up and posed, and left messes on the floor. Bengal tigers, who acted sometimes fierce and sometimes playful, were tamed by 22-year-old Vincenta Pages, who had a microphone and who was not afraid to use a whip.

There were also high-wire daredevils and aerialists, jugglers and acrobats. The show ended with the ''double wheel,'' a giant, spinning contraption with one man running in or on each wheel to make it go. As the wheels spun, the men jumping and danced and nearly fell, or seemed to, several times. The crowd gasped accordingly.

The show was divided into two acts, with a 15-minute intermission in the middle.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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