“Circus 1903” at Paris is Family-Friendly Spectacle With Thrills and Laughs Galore

“Circus 1903” at Paris Las Vegas is the newest show to open on the Las Vegas Strip, and it’s full of family-friendly variety acts, belly laughs and mesmerizing elephant puppetry.

In fact, the show’s so good, you might say it’s “Absinthe,” but without the dirty jokes. Given “Absinthe” is one of the best shows in Las Vegas, that’s saying something.

Circus 1903

Something you need to know about early circuses is they were intense. We’ll wait. (Thanks to “Circus 1903” for all the pics, by the way.)

The anchor of “Circus 1903” is its host and ringmaster, Willy Whipsnade, played to perfection by David Williamson. Williamson commands the stage, and his whip-smart jokes are the perfect through line for the show.

Williamson masterfully creates the old-timey circus vibe, while occasionally winking to the audience with references to iPhones and current pop culture accompanied with the aside, “Which wasn’t a thing in 1903.”

Williamson not only cues up each variety act, he also supplies ample comic relief while interacting with kids from the audience for several segments of the show. The humor is never corny or strained. It’s spot on throughout the evening, and provides a great contrast to the thrills in the show.

And thrills there are.

Circus 1903

No circus would be complete without a high-wire. Previously, it was just a wire, but recreational marijuana is now legal in Las Vegas.

Good circus-style variety acts are hard to come by. The popularity of circuses has flagged in recent years because audiences have so many more entertainment options, many involving CGI.

But “Circus 1903” has pulled together a diverse collection of acts, each with a distinct personality.

Right out of the gate, audiences are left breathless thanks to The Flying Finns, Artur Ivankovich, Ilya Kotenyov and Petter Linsky. As you might have guessed, they’re not from around here.

These three fearless performers from Finland are masters of the teeterboard, and soar above the stage at Paris untethered and without a net.

Circus 1903

The technical term is “Sproing!” Well, that’s our word for it.

The Flying Finns are followed by an equally dazzling performer, The Sensational Sozonov, with a “rola bola” act.

A rola bola is a balancing board set atop a variety of things its impossible to balance upon. The Paris Theater may need to reinforce its seats because we were on the edge of ours the whole time The Sensational Sozonov was atop his pillar of OMFG. (Probably not its official name.)

Circus 1903

We didn’t entirely know equilibristics were a thing until this very minute. Oh, like you did.

The variety acts come fast and furious, some gripping (Los Lopez on the high-wire), some awkwardly entertaining (contortionist Senayet Assefa Amara), some whimsical (acrobatic cyclist Florian Blummel) and some just downright impressive (juggler Francois Borie).

Circus 1903

Our pal Jeff Civillico seems to be on a bit of a hiatus from performing on The Strip, so “Circus 1903” gave us our juggling fix.

The final act, Les Incredibles (Anny Laplante and Andrei Kalesnikau), was a show-stopper.

Essentially, a petite woman is lofted into the air repeatedly, with each catch more heart-stopping than the last. The “human trapeze,” or Russian cradle, has a long history with the circus which we do not have time to look up because we are drinking heavily as we write this.

The couple previously performed in Cirque Du Soleil’s touring show, “Corteo.”

Circus 1903

We did find out the woman being tossed is called the “flyer,” her partner is called the “catcher” or “caster.”

These two made quite a splash on “America’s Got Talent.” Here’s a look at why this couple (yes, they’re a married couple) has such massive chiropractor bills.

Not all the acts in the program appeared in the show we saw (arialist Lucky Moon and acrobats Fratelli Rossi took the night off), so presumably the performers can be swapped out without the quality of the show suffering.

In addition to the comedy and variety acts, the big draw of “Circus 1903” is the life-size, lifelike pair of elephants, Queenie and Karanga (or Peanut).

Circus 1903

Karanga means “peanut” in Swahili. Yes, we sometimes take notes.

The adult elephant takes three puppeteers to operate, and the smaller takes one. In the program, credit is given to the three Queenie puppeteers as operating her “Head,” “Heart” and “Hind.”

Imagine having “Puppeteer, Elephant Hind” on your resume.

Circus 1903

It took awhile, but circuses finally figured out you don’t need to make animals do tricks to have a good time.

The movements of the elephants are majestic and uncannily realistic, brought to life by the same folks who made the stage version of “War Horse” a hit. Here’s a look at these remarkable creations.

“Circus 1903” is a lavish production, and the Paris Theater, formerly home to “Jersey Boys,” feels like a great fit.

The production feels like a fine fit for Las Vegas overall, as the visual nature of the show lends itself to appealing to international visitors. That’s why Cirque du Soleil is so popular in Sin City, by the way. You don’t have to understand English to enjoy the eye-popping visuals, and there’s no plot to follow.

“Circus 1903” cleverly side-steps a couple of potential pitfalls. Since there are no live animals, there are no protests. Also, the show’s music is pre-recorded, so it’s saving big bucks by not having to pay for union musicians.

“Circus 1903” is scheduled to be at Paris Las Vegas through Dec. 31, 2017, although we trust there’s an option to extend if the show does well.

Circus 1903

All the performers in “Circus 1903” bend over backwards to entertain audiences. Hey, you try writing a million photo captions.

Tickets start at $49, and the show is suitable for all ages. The show is at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with two shows on Saturday and Sunday, 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (dark on Mondays).

If you take in “Circus 1903” at Paris, let us know what you think. And give Peanut a big, wet kiss on the trunk for us. Which, for once, isn’t a euphemism for anything.

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  • Manybar Goatfish

    Can’t we respect those who protest animal cruelty at least as much as we have compassion for someone whose dog died? Standing up for the humane treatment of animals is a “pitfall,” Scott? Really?

    Also, Scott, I’ll go out on a limb and venture a guess that you don’t see it as a “pitfall” when union negotiated wages are spent (by the metric hell-ton) at the Freemont Street Experience. I’m just guessing, Scott.

    • Ha, yes, complete respect for those protesting circuses with live animals. Here, I was referring to sidestepping pitfalls of producing a show, including the fallout and expense of using animals. (I actually created an animal rights site, by the way, so am firmly in the “humane treatment of animals” camp. http://www.animalrightsstand.com) Again, on the union topic, I’m talking about the fact a show can be more efficiently produced with recorded music, rather than live. I worked for a labor for nine years (the Writers Guild of America), so I’m comfortable with my record on that, too. Appreciate your thoughts.

      • Manybar Goatfish

        On your animal rights website, you write:

        “It’s our goal to spread the word about compassion and the importance of treating animals with mercy and kindness. It’s our goal to inspire people to take action for a cause that needs fighting. Join us in this important fight!”

        That’s a powerful message. My issue stemmed from your words in this post that made me wonder which side of the “fight” you are on. Thank you for the clarification.

  • skeptic555

    David Williamson is a national treasure. Well known in the magic community, but also ridiculously funny. I have not yet seen the show to see how he works with the kids, but I’ve seen him do so in other venues, and he maintains an awesome balance of being edgy but also connecting with the kids in a way that really brings out the best in them…and therefore the show. He is awesome.

    • Completely agree. He’s the centerpiece of the show, and he does it effortlessly.

  • Rj Aznir

    I was interested right up until they said it is like “Absinthe”. That was the most boring show I have saw in Vegas and I have seen almost everything. Big and small.

    • Photoncounter

      I have seen Absinthe three times now and find it hilarious and well performed by an extremely talented cast. Not every show pleases everyone but this one has quite a following.

      • Yep, I’d say top three shows in Vegas, and probably the best all-around.

        • Photoncounter

          and you still have to go see Zombie Burlesque… Pull a favor, get seat C1.

          …the whips really hurt (in a good way!)

          • I have wanted to see that show for some time.

  • BlueLantern

    Not jumping to the top of my list, but the show sounds solid. I’m sure giant puppet elephants are impressive… It looks like a lot of work went into them. Are they really necessary? They sound more like filler, which is why you typically have clowns doing silly gags… you can’t run out one major acrobatic act after for 90 minutes.

    Speaking of clowns, did I miss a mention of old-fashioned greasepaint antics, or does this show forgo the clown show?

    • The elephants aren’t necessary, but they’re a big draw. No clowns was one of the best things about the show.

  • Burnsie

    I’m glad I read this review!

    When I first saw the name of the show, my first thoughts were, “Meh. Another one of those generic small-tent circuses that do the urban circuit.”

    Instead, this sounds pretty good.

    The producers really need to 1) Promote David Williamson to the hilt, and 2) Doubly emphasize that this is NOT an animal-acts circus.

    I wish them good luck and a long run!

    • Agree on both your suggestions! David Williamson is like the circus version of Mac King.