National tour ‘Circus 1903’ charms audiences with creative and entertaining opulence

Of Notoriety

It’s easy to be swept away with the magic of a circus visit to a small town.

The rural farming town of my youth never had a circus tour stop through, but the annual summer carnival’s visit was also an exciting highlight and delight for all ages.

Broadway In Chicago has happily welcomed a very special circus to the Windy City for just one week. This circus dates back to 1903 and serves as sturdy proof that what’s exciting and entertaining, when wrapped in worthy talent and seasoned showmanship, ranks as ageless.

CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus” comes courtesy of  the producers of what’s billed as “the world’s biggest magic show,” the touring stage show “The Illusionists” (which just played Chicago last month), and it stars the award-winning puppeteers of the Broadway sensation “War Horse,” who have also mastered pachyderm puppets. Living up to its advertised promise as “a turn-of-the-century circus spectacular,” “CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus” continues at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., in Chicago only through this Sunday, March 26.

Perfect for audiences of all ages, this two-hour, one-intermission, joy-ride features various performers with mesmerizing abilities to keep ticket-holders on the edge of their seats.

In addition to the fun puppetry played out with a mother and baby elephant who rumble about on stage, the huge cast includes some of the most unique, amazing (and dangerous) circus acts from all four corners of the world, from strong men, jugglers and contortionists to acrobats musicians, high wire artists and even a rascally raccoon.

I’m not quite sure why, but this circus, for some reason, is devoid of any clowns.

But there’s still generous humor spread about, which comes courtesy of the warm and inviting Circus Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade, played with boundless energy by the good-natured David Williamson. He encourages plenty of audience involvement and has extra fun picking out eager children to join him on the stage for shared antics.

Especially impressive is Florian Blummel, who hails from Germany and is credited as “The Cycling Cyclone.” He is able to become an extension of the bicycle he commands to perform assorted tricks which seem to defy gravity AND logic. Just as astonishing is Francois Borie, billed as “The Great Gaston,” and certainly a whirlwind from Paris who is able to hold any audience in the palm of his hand, harnessing attention spans with his juggling feats. Worshiped as “The Queen of Africa,” Senayet Asefa Amare is dubbed as “The Elastic Dislocationist” and she easy ranks as the most unbelievable contortionist I’ve ever witnessed on stage. The Lopez Family rule the high wire during the latter part of the show, and Italy’s dynamic duo, while The Rossi Brothers are two of the best acrobats with unbelievable strength and agility.

“CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus” is produced by Simon Painter, Tim Lawson and MagicSpace Entertainment and features the designs of scenic artist Todd Ivins recreating the interior of a lofty circus tent, complete with circus wagon and favorite features. Act One is set in front of the circus with trucks, props and rigging. Act Two features the tent, flagpoles and rigging being raised into the roof of the theatre.

This “circus of yesteryear” is easily ready to rule as “the circus of tomorrow.”

The costumes for “CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus” are designed by Angela Aaron, who worked hard to dream-up the “impeccable recreations” of original turn-of-the-century circus costumes, each a work-of-art inspired by authentic photographic collections, studying historical museum pieces and discussions with experts and historians. The captured music for “CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus,” which ideally sets the tone and energy for every performance, is true to the time period to convey the thrill and danger of the acts. It is composed by Evan Jolly, who serves as the composer of many of Painter and Lawson’s international hits.

Tickets for “CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus” range from $16 to $80 and available at (800) 775-2000 or

Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached