When you bill yourself as “the Greatest Show on Earth” there are some pretty high expectations.

For circus fans 5 to, well, grandma’s age, Thursday’s performance by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Cumberland County Civic Center delivered.

The spectacle had appeal to kids and kids at heart, from bathroom humor to pulsating electronica powered by a faux iPod.

After 140 years, this is the granddaddy of circuses, but it’s not your granddaddy’s circus.

David DaVinci is a ringmaster for the modern age, with a pin piercing his ear and storm trooper boots and a hot wife who, for some reason, he keeps making disappear.

“I have to perform at the top of my game every night. I’m competing with MTV, Nintendo and PlayStation,” DaVinci said before the show.

“Five years ago, I could take three minutes to do an illusion. Now, that three minutes is pressed into about 45 seconds. If I took three minutes on one act, I’d lose everybody,” he said.

They don’t actually call him a ringmaster, but illucinator, because of his facility with illusions and magic. He’s a venerable 27 years old and started doing magic when he was in fifth grade.

“We actually created new magic for this show,” he said, noting that he doesn’t have the benefit of a stage with the audience on only one side, but is surrounded by people who are keen to detect a flaw.

The test of success is when someone like 7-year-old Ebany Spurlock can’t stay in her seat she’s so excited, jumping up to applaud at each spectacular feat.

When two Russian women dangled by their hair, it was almost too much for her to bear.

Her brother Traevon, 5, was most impressed by the motorcyclist riding the high-wire.

The night’s entertainment was a complete surprise for them. Their parents hadn’t breathed a word on the drive down from North Conway, N.H.

And years from now, they will bring their kids to the circus.

Or not.

Heidi Marston of Old Orchard Beach couldn’t get her 10-year-old or 14-year-old to the show, so she came with her mother instead.

“We saw them when they came two years ago and we couldn’t wait to come back,” she said of the Ringling Brothers.

As a treat for opening night, scores of youngsters got a chance to climb into the ring, under the lights, and try their hand at entertaining.

“It’s scary,” said Jocelyn Alvarez, 11 of Saco, who had just come from trying to balance a peacock feather on her chin. “They must have a lot of practice in doing that.”

Some acts, however, that drew protesters to the circus opening.

Angela Smith of Animal Rights Maine said that taking an elephant out of its environment to perform in a circus is cruel.

Smith said children are understandably fascinated by exotic animals but should learn about their humane treatment.

The circus denies the claims of maltreatment, saying it has much invested in the animals and treats them humanely. While in a city, the animals are penned in plain sight, said production manager Jason Gibson.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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