Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth recently received its first overhaul in 50 years. At the 136th edition of the venerable circus, all the action now happens in one ring, rather than the traditional three. "Moms were complaining that their lives were three-ring circuses," says ringmaster Chuck Wagner. "The last thing they wanted to do was come here and not know what to look at. There's focus now."
Wagner, a Broadway veteran who joined the Greatest Show on Earth in January, says the circus wasn't part of his career plan. "It was never a dream of mine to run away and join the circus. But now that I have, it's a phenomenal thing."
The circus' new look which also includes the addition of a ginormous video screen is designed to bring audiences closer to the production. And for the first time, the circus now has a story line: Wagner is the patriarch of a family that's plucked out of the audience to become part of the center-ring action. "This is the same as Broadway," he says. "We have a story to tell. It's just on a larger scale. And with elephants."
Still, the heart of the Greatest Show on Earth remains the acrobats, the animals, and the human cannonball. "It's risky business," says Wagner. "I'm still amazed."
Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 11:30 a.m., 3:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5 p.m.; Oct. 24-26, 7 p.m. Starts: Oct. 20. Continues through Oct. 29
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