Pee-wee Big Top

P.T. would be proud. The Barnum Organization cannot have failed to notice the rise, and the smashing success, of artsy, boutique-style circuses like Cirque du Soleil and Circus Flora. Realizing that, to modify the master's famous truism, there's an upscale sucker born every minute, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey have developed Kaleidoscape, "an intimate, one-ring circus spectacular" that also revives another long-dormant tradition -- it's the first Barnum & Bailey show to use a "big top" tent as its venue in this country since 1956. It boasts a generally European, old-fashioned flavor, just possibly with a faint tinge of decadence. Some of the acts include:

Pipo -- The son of the famed French whiteface clown who went by the same nom de cirque, Phillipe Sosman performed not only with virtually every important European circus, but also in the original production of Marat/Sade.

Golden Statues -- The three Moroccan acrobats, covered in gold body paint, pose in astonishing positions.

Olga & Istvan -- The former is a Russian trainer of a flock of geese -- the birds are said to respond to 87 different voice commands -- while the latter is a Bulgarian acrobat, juggler and contortionist, who stands 27 inches tall.

There is also a wide variety of trapeze artists, horse acts, jugglers, arrow-shooting acts and the like. One of Kaleidoscape's most ingenious conceits, set forth in the elaborate, hardbound souvenir program, is a sort of soap-operatic relationship between the various acts. Check out the description, from the program, of the diminutive Istvan's unspoken passions: "He yearns to become a horse trainer as good as the gorgeous Sylvia, whom he secretly adores, but his true strengths lie elsewhere within him. No one around him recognizes those strengths . . ."

Can't you almost hear the melancholy accordion music? What a pity no one ever showed Sylvia the program.

Barnum's Kaleidoscape is performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Sunday, December 12, at Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2525 South 48th Street. All ticketholders are welcome to a preshow with live music, gourmet food and the opportunity to meet the cast members, preceding each performance by one hour. Tickets range from $22 to $48 and are available at Ticketmaster (480-784-4444) or by calling 1-877-922-7686 (1-877-9-BARNUM)

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead