‘Greatest Show on Earth’ writes great comeback story

circus theme party
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The show must go on. That’s why the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show on Earth” is back, but it looks different as it rewrites the stars.

After taking down the big tent in 2017 following a 146-year run of entertaining the masses, performers with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey are claiming the spotlight once again in a “reimagined” show, according to a statement in the Miami Herald by Kenneth Feld, chair and chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment, which has produced Ringling Bros. since 1967 and features other touring shows such as Disney on Ice and Monster Jam.

The new Ringling Bros. debuted Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Bossier City, Louisiana.

aerial view of a carnival
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The first step in reinventing the big-top production was dropping “circus” from the name, and this change stems from the major changes to the show itself.

All the clowns had to pile into their small car and head down the road to look for new work because they aren’t part of the show anymore, possibly due to a cultural shift that sees the greasepaint-adorned characters as scary.

Lions won’t be leaping into the center ring with mighty roars as they sail through rings of fire, nor will elephants trumpet triumphantly as they perform gymnastic feats.

No animals will be part of the show, which was the direction the Rignling was heading even before packing the tent poles in 2017 due to pressure from animal rights groups.

elephant statue on circus big top
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Instead, human performers and technology will entertain the crowds. Does it matter where a person’s joy comes from as long as they are smiling and enjoying themself? I think not.

“This is a huge production,” said Juliette Feld, COO of Feld Entertainment, in a Yahoo! Entertainment piece. “We’ve got 75 performers, three different video screens, special effects and flying. We re-conceived what’s possible and came out with a new production that’s relevant to today’s audiences and upholds that promise of being the Greatest Show on Earth.”

To continue to prove that comfort is the enemy of progress, the mainstay ringmaster won’t be leading spectators through the show. 

Now, three emcees will serve as show guides who shepherd audience members through participatory songs and skits that help tell the story unfolding through the acrobatics and other performance components.

That’s because the show leans on a narrative that, according to Yahoo! Entertainment, “takes place, appropriately enough, at the circus. Newcomer Wes, played by Wesley Williams, has just joined the Greatest Show on Earth and he’s helped through this colorful new world by three guides, who show him the variety and diversity of performers he’s about to join — from Mongolian jump ropers to Cuban acrobats.”

I don’t know if I ever went to the circus as a child and experienced the sights, sounds, and undoubtedly potent smells of the animal-infused spectacle. Part of me thinks I might have, but it could easily be a manufactured memory from watching too many movies.

Regardless, the new and improved Ringling Bros. sounds fascinating. I am tempted to load up the family and head toward the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City Nov. 10-12. Since there aren’t animals involved anymore, I can rest easy knowing my children won’t get mistaken for critters that have escaped their cages, and, what’s more, I think they might really enjoy it. 

More importantly, though, I’m glad such a significant show in entertainment history is reinventing itself to continue existing and remaining relevant.

It does make me wonder, though: will Hugh Jackman be producing a sequel to “The Greatest Showman” in light of this? If so, I hope it is called, “Still the Greatest Showman.”

Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.

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About toddvogts 839 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.