Parade of exotic performers lifts 'Jungle Fantasy'

June 26, 2008 6:53:01 PM PDT
If you've ever wanted to see a Ukrainian frog juggler, a Bulgarian "hairialist" and a Mongolian contortionist lizard all in the same show, then you're in luck. "Jungle Fantasy" has arrived to satisfy all your circus cravings. Despite being produced by a company called Cirque Dreams, "Jungle Fantasy" is not affiliated with Cirque du Soleil. This is family friendly fare and it plays well in the cavernous Broadway Theatre, most recently home to "The Color Purple" and future location of "Shrek The Musical."

First we meet Mother Nature (Jill Diane) who purportedly ties the show together by singing original songs by Jill Winters. She is accompanied by Soultree Violinist (Fabio lookalike Jared Burnett) on the electric violin and "Percushroomist" Lee Miller, hidden away in the wings amid some giant jungle fungus. Diane has a lovely voice, but the strange electronic music is boring and nonsensical, besides being completely overproduced. You can scarcely hear the poor Percushroomist.

The songs barely matter, though - what you're really there to see are amazing acts like those Mongolian contortionist lizards. Four seemingly boneless women in sequined, spiny outfits balance and roll and stack atop one another in a mind-bending display of extreme flexibility.

They are followed by that Bulgarian hairialist (Stefka Iordanova), dressed as a flashy blackbird, who is indeed lifted into the air by her hair. Her program biography claims she is "one of the few left in the world today still performing the Bulgarian art form of hair spinning."

Vine Swingers Denys Kucher and Vitalii Lykov, Ukrainian gymnastics champions, are equally impressive: Their macho high-flying act is performed without a net. Their strength is equaled by the grace and beauty of the Butterflyers (Sergey Parshin and Naomi Sampson), two aerialists who dip and swoop above the stage on a fabric column that billows out behind them like a shimmery sail.

The show is divided into "Jungle by Day" and "Jungle by Night" - the second half finds all the glittery, gauzy animal costumes liberally daubed with phosphorescent paint and includes Ukrainian Vladimir Dovgan as a Snake Roller and a Balancing Giraffe. Dovgan's Balancing Giraffe act, with partner Anatoliy Yeniy is truly spectacular. The pair, dressed rather embarrassingly in spotted neon animal print, balance at one point on top of four benches stacked on a flat board that teeters on top of five shifting cylinders. A crash seems inevitable, but somehow never happens.

Scenic design, by Jon Craine, creates a puffy rain forest full of curving vines and hanging branches. The wild costumes, by Lenora Taylor and Santiago Rojo, are fantastically furry and/or sparkly - especially the emu with glittery pink pumps and those spangly lizards.

"Jungle Fantasy" is an extravagant spectacle. Broadway may have never before hosted the likes of those Mongolian lizards, but they and their talented tropical friends seem right at home.