It IS the ‘Greatest’ show

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If you attend the “Boom A Ring” circus on Coney Island and don’t have a good time, you don’t have a soul.

I say that because it had been 19 years, give or take, since I last saw a circus, and as I entered the big top for the first time as an adult, I wondered if I’d outgrown the juvenile passions to which the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performance caters.

Lo and behold, I had not. Contrary to what others might think, I’m pleased to say that the “Boom a Ring” extravaganza proves that I’m still young at heart, which is more than I can say for the curmudgeonly review by my colleague Thurston Dooley III.

Going to the circus is not just a mandatory chore for parents. Though heavily merchandised now, the spirit of P.T. Barnum’s uproarious contribution to popular culture pervades the tented spectacle and offers a much-needed break from routine evening excursions, like dinner and a movie.

The cirque’s main appeal are the stunts with a high risk factor. Nothing says “fun” like watching another human imperil his own life. The Los Scolas trio is poised under fire on the rotating double gyroscope. And the element of danger is even more thrilling in the antics of Liina Aunola and her flight on the chair swing and rope.

As they say, you’ll pay for the entire seat, but you’ll only need the edge.

It’s not all an adrenaline rush, however, and its best moments actually come during more subdued interludes.

The clown Justin Case is the undisputed star. His ability to balance on a bicycle on his head makes him the greatest cyclist alive (take that, Lance Armstrong). He’s also offers some much-needed comic relief. While hopping over and around a member of the audience lying prone in the ring, he displays a ribald sense of humor that, though definitely in the sophomoric sphere, is charming (the French accent helps).

If there’s any aspect of the “Boom A Ring” that won’t resonate with adult sensibilities, it’s the animal acts. Children will no doubt disagree with this sentiment, but, frankly, the appearance of elephants and tigers result in duller segments. To see powerful, exotic animals so well-trained that they stand on their hind legs is, in the abstract, an impressive display of man conquering nature, but it’s not quite exciting.

Dooley, through his cranky screed, makes some valid points that the seating and layout are imperfect, but he exaggerates their detriment. Yes, you’ll have to crane your neck at times, but focusing on those peccadilloes shows how deep the critic had to dig before finding a tiny bit of buried refuse.

The bottom line is that the two-hour Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey show packs more thrills than a spin on the Cyclone — and for only $10 a pop, costs only two bucks more than that fleeting, whip-lashing ride.

It would still be a bargain at twice the price.

Coney Island Boom A Ring [West 21 Street between the Boardwalk and Surf Avenue, (201) 507-8900], through Sept. 7. Tickets, $10-$65. For info, visit

Updated 5:13 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Barbara from IL says:
I'm intrigued that you were less impressed by the elephants than the human acts. Circuses come under a lot of fire for hauling animals, especially the elephants, all over the country to be put through a routine that, as you said, is a display of man conquering nature. The elephants did not choose this life, and there is no way to meet their physical, social and psychological needs in a touring, captive situation.

You thought that children might be more interested in the animal acts than you were. In my experience, children seem more likely to understand that the elephants and other animals are unhappy. I know children who came away from the whole experience feeling that making the animals perform just isn't right. It is often the parents and grandparents who are excited about reliving their memories. The kids often don't want any part of it.

The humans chose to perform in a circus, and their acts sound much more interesting. You also found that to be true, Mike. Maybe the folks at Ringling Bros. will see that their show would be just fine without the animals. They could tighten up the show while removing themselves from controversy in the process.
June 19, 2009, 8:43 pm
Logan from OH says:
Ringling Bros. does meet the physical, social, and psychological needs of their elephants. Ringling is a leader in the industry for the conservation and research of the Asian elephant. There has been over 20 births at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation. That is more than any zoo in the United States. That says a lot about the care that Ringling gives its elephants. Ringling is also very active in the International Elephant Foundation and the Elephant Managers Association, two leaders in elephant conservation, PETA is not active in either.
June 22, 2009, 9:15 am
Sarah from Crown Heights says:
Plus the snacks are great, too - i mean, they have not one but TWO different kinds of pretzels! And decent beer! And these crazy psychedelic snow cones that you eat out of a clown head.

June 24, 2009, 11:59 pm
Tamra from Arizona says:
Trevor you mention the number of births, but didn't mention the number of deaths......

Ringling started the conservation center because they are no longer allowed to pluck baby elephants from the wild. Think about it. Not a single one will be released into the wild. They don't give a dime towards stopping poaching. The elephants are born into a lifetime of slavery to help perpetuate the money-hungry circus.

Watch the video where a mother at the conservation center gives birth to a baby while she is chained by three of her legs.

Where do you think they keep the elephants while they are not performing? More than 90% of the time they are chained on travel cars, standing in their own excrement. Here in our city, they keep them in a basement of the arena, no sunlight, no exercise, nothing. I don't see how an educated person can consider that even close to meeting an animal's physical, social, and psychological needs.

Think about it, research this topic, and stop spreading ignorance. The owner testified this year at the elephant abuse trial that they do strike the elephants in order to get them to perform. Look it up, the transcripts are online.

June 28, 2009, 2:35 pm
Tamra from Arizona says:
My previous comment was for Logan.

This entire article only helps perpetuate the notion that animal circuses are healthy and fun-filled family entertainment. Animal acts are antiquated and it's a shame that more people don't speak out against the animal acts rather than glorifying what is already in place.

June 28, 2009, 2:45 pm
erick mav from Shaolin, NYC says:
Actually, Ringling has a huge tradition and tragic end in Coney Island. It seems that the organizers or the third party marketers that run this circus has zero clue that the B-N-B Circus had their world famous museum here in Coney Island. Unfortunately, the building that housed many precious animals and artifacts perished and the City was in mourning over this tragic event. I hope B-n-B could recreate museums in the same vain as the Ripleys Museum.
July 1, 2009, 3:20 pm
Steve from PS says:
Elephants (and monkeys or any other animal) are here for our amusement and nothing else. Is it better for them to be in a Zoo? OK. Maybe. But I don't see how that is much better, a little more room, but still essentially a prison. Would they be better off being poached on the range, in the wild, as it were?

Furthermore, this is the circus. It's about FUN--take your vegan ass back to the commune.
July 17, 2009, 1:47 pm

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