As the lights flashed and the music pulsated, I took a swig of Irish whiskey from my plastic balloon-animal dog tumbler and said to my wife, “There is nooooooooo way Doogie Howser is going to take a run at the Wheel of Death.”
I was wrong. Neil Patrick Harris himself banged out a couple spins before daredevil Jayson Dominguez got inside and performed breathtaking feats like rope-jumping on top of the ever-spinning-while-also-rotating human hamster cage above a packed tent of wide-eyed audience members.
It’s just another day at the Big Apple Circus, now in its 42nd season at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, its home since 1981. Well, that evening wasn’t just any other. It was opening night, hence Harris’ guest-hosting gig, attended by other Gotham celebrities such as Jane Krakowski, Mariska Hargitay, and, as my nine-year-old daughter rushed to tell me before she and her mom went to pay their Hamilton-ian respects, Lin. Manuel. Miranda.
Ringmaster Storm Marrero, a singer making her debut after being plucked from the burlesque supper club Duane Park, introduced a cavalcade of killer acts: high-wire cyclists Lopez Troupe, umbrella juggler Kyle Driggs, and the finicky yet ultimately game Savitsky Cats, nine domestic feline acrobats who have hit the big time and are scheduled to perform at the NBA All-Star game after this gig wraps up in February.
The Big Apple Circus is a short-term, high-volume business. The show — a wildly energetic and eclectic event where audiences sit within 50 feet of the action — hits hard and fast. The show runs under two hours, including intermission, because it has to in order to be successful. Tent capacity is roughly 1,600, with tiered pricing ranging from $35 to $225 for the VIP ringside package — unlimited snacks, a free drink, lounge access, and a post-show meet-and-greet. The circus has only three months to try and pack ’em in: The last quarter of the year is the peak for New York City tourism, accounting for nearly a third of domestic and international visitors…
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