Review: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus enthralls 86-year-old 'kid'
Review • There's lots to enjoy, but 'Dragons' theme falls short.
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The ringmaster at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus always welcomes "ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages" to the Greatest Show on Earth each year when the big show rolls into EnergySolutions Arena.

Such was the case Thursday night as the circus opened its five-day run with elephants, tigers, clowns, acrobats, animal acts, trapeze artists and, in this year's 142nd edition, a martial arts troupe.

My date for the night was one of those "children of all ages." And my 86-year-old mother, Vi, watched in wonder, expressed bits of frustration and paid rapt attention to the spectacle that surrounded her.

"Scary!" she exclaimed when she looked up to the arena ceiling as a motorcyclist and two acrobats performed a high-wire act.

"That's amazing!" she said at another point.

"They're good, huh?" reflected Mom after watching the Dragon Riders, a group of eight motorcyclists racing around in a tight steel ball.

"I wonder if those animals are happy," she asked several times as lions, tigers and elephants went through their paces.

Mom was a bit of a critic, too. She wanted more clowns and didn't think the ones who performed were that funny. She got a bit impatient waiting for the elephants to appear in the second half. She missed having the circus outdoors like she remembered from her childhood.

"This seemed like a modern version of an old-fashioned circus," she opined as we walked away from the arena.

There was a lot of reality to that statement. The circus mixes plenty of tradition with bits of modern pizazz.

The ringmaster often uses the word "unprecedented" to describe acts like a trapeze artist doing a triple somersault, martial arts experts breaking solid oak rods with their heads or the eight motorcyclists in the steel ball.

There is so much variety and so much going on that the extraordinary can sometimes seem almost ordinary after two hours.

Like Mom, I had a few criticisms.

First, due to the always interesting acoustics at Energy­Solutions Arena and the loudness of the traditional circus band, I had trouble understanding much of anything the ringmaster said, especially when he was singing.

Second, this was billed as the "Dragons" version of the circus and, though the theme was played on LED screens with circus wagons and in various themed production numbers throughout the night, the whole idea was underwhelming. Even the payoff at the end, which I won't spoil for those who go, seemed a bit lame.

Finally, parents need to be warned to bring lots of cash if they want to purchase any souvenirs. The prices, always on the high side, seemed even worse than normal this year. Fifteen bucks, for example, is pretty steep for a simple color program.

I wasn't particularly disappointed that only a portion of the show was a true three-ring circus. The second half of the show started with horse, dog and cat acts in three different rings.

Otherwise, this was pretty much a one-act-at-a-time circus. The fact that I had to split my time between watching trained cats in one ring and dogs in the other, all the while comparing them to my domestic pets, was testimony that sometimes less is more.

All that aside, part of the fun of going to the circus is just watching the kids point, scream, clap and look at the show in wide-eyed wonder. Add to that a chance to see the animals outdoors 90 minutes before showtime and a pre-show where families can interact with performers on the arena floor an hour before the circus begins and most will find the circus a wild and enjoyable experience.

Just ask my mom. —

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Where • EnergySolutions Arena.

When • Sunday, 1:30 and 5:30 p.m.; Monday, 7 p.m. An animal open house begins 90 minutes before each showtime in a parking lot south of the arena and a pre-show that allows fans to interact with performers on the arena floor starts 60 minutes before the main event.

Ticket prices • $18 to $85.

Bottom Line • Children of all ages should enjoy traditional animal acts, trapeze artists, clowns, motorcycle stunts and martial artists. The dragon theme might appeal to some but seemed a bit overhyped.