Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall
I recently had the opportunity to see Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall. It's the latest production by Cirque du Soleil. They self-bill the show as an "irresistibly odd escape." I think at least half of that billing is true, particularly the odd part.
Zarkana is an amazing mix of the death-defying and mind-blowing acrobatics expected of the genre. It's also a bizarre otherworldly, sort of post-apocolyptic world of clowns and performers. The whole thing is set to new age music and guided by a ring leader.
On the negative side, the "clowns" part of the circus were just too bizarre and esoteric for me. Before the show, they wandered freely throughout the house and pestered individuals amongst the audience. I never understood their purpose or the story. These aren't your normal "how many you can fit in a car" circus clowns. I was surprised at the number of very small children present as I can't imagine what they would glean from these "clowns". During the show, the "clowns" were sort of half spectators and half performers. I never quite understood their story and part of their art was just plain creepy.
I happened to be a matinee performance, which had that constant movement of audience members who were busy eating, drinking, shifting, shouting and picture taking that Saturday matinee audiences often feature. Another negative was that it's long a show, although there is an intermission, which seemed to ascerbate the squirming and short attention span of the young audience.
Finally, it is extremely loud - the constant music, which is performed live and is sort of a cross between world music, rock and new age, is boomed into the hall at a very high decibel. I rarely understood the lyrics or even what the "ring leader" Zark was singing, although I did like the timbre of his voice - it has a deliciousTom Waits quality. I admit that my hearing is often sensitive and I was happy to have ear plugs.
On the up side, the acrobats are amazing. It is one death-defying act after another, each seeming more impossible than the one before. It is impossible not to gasp and oooh and ahhh over their performance. Their athletic prowess is only trumped by their fearlessness, particularly a the men of the high wire who later did an amazing routine on this very large steel circle - it was heart-in-throat thrilling. The hights they flew and jumped in and around the huge proscenium stage of Radio City was extremely exciting.
I've seen two Cirque du Soleil productions before, both in Vegas, and I always just feel discombobulated with an odd mix of overstimulation and confusion. Where is the story? What is the point? My friend Darla, who loves Cirque and has seen many productions, says, "I never think too much about the story, it's all visual to me, and yes the acrobats are amazing. Some have been like beautiful dreams." If you're like Darla, then perhaps this production is for you. Personally, I just felt like I was in a nightmare, or maybe I should have taken Darla's advice before going.
Zarkana runs into October at Radio City . On a related note, this production knocked the Tony Awards out of its customary home at Radio City to the smaller Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side. Surprisingly, it was a good fit in the more intimate venue and further making many fans of the award show happy, it sounds as though Zarkana plans to do the same thing again for the next few summers as mentioned in this CBS Sunday Morning profile.