STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents “Circus XTREME.”
Traditional circus elements — including carnival-style acts like sword swallowing and fire juggling — will get modernized, magnified and taken to new levels during a 12-show run Feb. 11-16 at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. That’s the word from David Shipman, the third-youngest ringmaster in the 145-year history of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
“It’s high wire with a twist. It’s a race around the world, from the deepest depths of the ocean to the hottest parts of the desert. It’s a very beautiful, artistic show,” said Shipman, who is on his third tour as a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey ringmaster — his first with the full, three-ring production of the circus.
Featuring performers from 13 different countries, the Circus Xtreme show also has strongmen, freestyle BMX trick riders, trampoline daredevils, contortionists, a human cannonball, a bungee aerial skydiving display, and an animal cast that includes Bengal tigers and — new this year — two-humped camels with women riders from Mongolia. Shipman described the finale as a “free-for-all,” with performers flipping over, under and on top of each other.
“We pulled from the realm of extreme sports and competitive acrobatics and brought them into the world of the circus, making this the most contemporary show we’ve ever created,” said circus producer Alana Feld in a press release. “We’ve also pushed the limits of all of our amazing artists and performers to create new and different exhilarating elements, providing audiences with extreme family fun.”
It takes a cast and crew of more than 300 people to put on the show, which includes a nine-piece band that backs a singing-and-dancing Shipman on songs he described as contemporary, youthful and “cool without trying to be cool.”
Shipman attended his first Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus show at the tender age of 2½ at the Civic Center in Pensacola, Fla. Although he only recalls “little bits,” it made a profound impression, inspiring him to pursue musical theater training at performing arts schools.
“I remember the lights, the colors, the horses and the ringmaster being spotlit. When I got the opportunity to ‘run away with the circus,’ I did it. And how many people get a chance to do that?,” said Shipman, whose first performance as ringmaster for “The Greatest Show on Earth” was at none other than the Pensacola Civic Center.
When are the Philly show times?
7 p.m. Feb. 11 and 16; 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 12-13; and 11 a.m. and 3 and 7 p.m. Feb. 14-15.
How much are tickets?
They range from $15-$135, but expect to tack on another $3 if you’re buying them the day of the show.
How can I get tickets?
Call (800) 298-4200 or visit www.comcasttix.com.
Where’s the arena?
3601 S. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Do they still do that pre-show thing?
The All Access Pre-show is free with your show ticket, and opens one hour before show time (except for the 10:30 matinees, when it will not be held). Meet the cast and get up close to the animals. There’s even a chance to win a painting created by one of the Ringling Bros. elephants.
Although Shipman will be backstage doing his warm-ups during the All Access Pre-show, he recommended getting to your show early to check it out. “You get to try on costumes and it’s a very interactive experience,” he said.
Producer Nicole Feld commented in a press release: “As a mom, I know that’s my daughter’s favorite part.”
Who are the Felds?
Music promoter Irvin Feld purchased the circus in 1967 (when arenas started to become popular), sold it in 1971, then the family reacquired it in 1982.
Since then, Feld Entertainment has been producing and presenting touring live shows in more than 75 countries. Besides the circus, that also includes Disney on Ice, Monster Jam, Monster Energy Supercross, Disney Live! and Marvel Universe LIVE! Their website is www.feldentertainment.com.