Circus Oz Has Something for Everyone (4 Stars)

Circus Oz:  From the Ground Up.  Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at Citi Shubert Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston, MA, through February 23.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Circus Oz, a traveling show from Melbourne, Australia that was created by two merging circus troops in 1978.  The premise is a construction site, its denizens being acrobats, jugglers, musicians, aerialists and clowns.  Two hours later, I’m still not sure how to categorize the wonderfully ordered mayhem that was seen onstage.  “Anarchic but disciplined creativity” is how they describe themselves, and that certainly holds true.  Really, I’ve never seen anything like it.

First and foremost, Circus Oz is funny.  The audience in attendance ranged from senior citizens to two year olds, and there was something to make everyone laugh.  “My name is Dez.  Don’t be jealous, be inspired”, is the opening gambit from Dez, an ex-model played by the hilarious and likeable Kai Johnson-Peady.  Dez loves the spotlight, and spends a great deal of energy trying to take it away from his fellow performers, who perform a rollicking series of light-hearted, death-defying stunts over the course of two hours.  

The show opens with a Magician and his assistant, a Cowboy, played by Jeremy Davies and Mark Sheppard, who select a child from the audience to assist them with a card trick that’s a running gag throughout the show.  Jeremy Davies is a very funny man with a knack of timing and delivery.  I looked forward to his scenes, as they were a break from some of the more frightening – to us – moments onstage.

“Oh my God!” I heard a man exclaim, as one of the women in the troop was tossed around like a football before being used as a human jump rope.  There are no safety nets save the obvious trust between the group members.  There were a few times when I found myself gripping the armrests, such as when a winning performer named Dale Woodbridge towered over the stage holding onto a tall, bended vertical pole.  Have you ever seen a woman spin a large wooden table with her toe?  The talented Hazel Bock does this very thing after juggling five large red rubber balls with her hands and feet.

Underneath all of the stunts, acrobats, comedy and magic are the musicians – drums, horns, piano, guitar – who under the musical direction of Carl Polke, provide the carnival-esque spirit of the Circus.  Ania Reynolds is wonderful on keyboards, and drummer Bec Matthews has her own stunt, a stunning turn of drumming in a large, beautifully lit wheel that circles above the stage while circus members tumble underneath.

It was nice to see an assortment of all different kinds of body types in Circus Oz, from burly to ropey to compact.  The democratic spirit of the group was evidenced throughout the performance – everyone in this exceptionally gifted ensemble got their well-deserved 15 minutes.  At the end of the show, Bec Matthews announced that it was dedicated to “the principles of compassion, diversity and human kindness.”  What’s not to like about that? For more info, go to: