Cirque du Soleil aims Wintuk at youngsters
Children’s theatrical show designed for the holiday season
Leaves were falling in New York City but snowflakes weren’t. Which made it exactly the right moment to premiere a show like the Cirque du Soleil’s Wintuk, a whimsical circus fable about a young boy’s quest for snow.
With Wintuk, the Cirque last week arrived in the heart of the Big Apple, at last, within the embrace of Madison Square Garden, a sacred NYC mega-institution which also counts the Knicks basketball team and Rangers hockey club as in-house acts.
Previous Cirque visits to New York meant tent shows pitched at the edge of the city, always successful, but marginal within the Manhattan context. Now they’re midtown in a semi-permanent locale, the WaMu Theatre of the Garden, for a four-year winter run of 10-weeks each year, with 4,000 seats to sell for each performance (up to three per day).
Although it marks a breakthrough, Wintuk is a fairly modest (by Cirque standards) $20-million show, aimed at the family market over the holiday season.
It treads a meandering line between children’s theatre and adult circus-in-atheatre — within the restrictions of a wide stage that has an unfortunately low-ceiling, which rules out high-wire and trapeze acts. In Vegas, the resorts help the Cirque build $150-million custom-made theatres. In New York, they have to adjust to what’s available.
But, as we soon discover, the WaMu stage is a great place to roller-blade, breakdance, or do skateboard or bicycle tricks. Clown/acrobat Jamie Adkins does a slackwire act on a clothesline, juggling handkerchiefs while he struggles for balance.
At first, it’s hard to know where to look, there’s so much simultaneous urbanscene action going on. After all, this is a city kid’s dream we’re sharing. Jamie (Jacob Connolly) is upset that the big chill has arrived without the fluffy flakes and he’s eager to do something about it. In a sweetly romantic side story, he’s smitten by Shadow Girl (Teele Ude), an elusive, balletic little girl who dances away from him and keeps popping up as a fleeting image wherever he goes.
Set designer Patricia Ruel has kept to sweeping lines and ramps, suggesting icy slopes. Projections on an upstage screen provide a flowing cartoon backdrop, from New York skyline, to playful moon, to northern lights. Choreographer Catherine Archambault keeps the stage hopping with surprises.
There’s a quirky chase scene in which a bicycle-riding cop chases a pickpocket over garbage cans and traps him on the ground between the wheels of his bike. Rene Bibaud does a loopy high-speed skipping rope number.
But the singing lampposts steal the show. A half-dozen old-fashioned lamposts transform into a chorus line with beaming faces and batting false eyelashes, undulating as they sing. When they finish, with a quick twist, they’re back to lighting the streets. Pure magic, creating by puppet wizard Richard Blackburn of Theatre de la Dame de Coeur of Upton, Que., also credited with directing and writing Wintuk. (Fernand Rainville is director of creation.)
Blackburn has opened up a whole new, exciting dimension for the Cirque. Later, his huge icemen and giant birds evoke instant awe.
Standard circus acts are part of the package, too. Juggler Timo Wopp keeps orange balls and silver pins flying. Acrobat Alexandre Monteiro balances above stacked platforms and cylinders, which seem likely to fly out in all directions. A clever rag doll number should prove extra fascinating to children who own one.
If this be children’s theatre, the narrative needs tightening, as circus acts create lulls. Jamie and the Shaman (Angelica Norma) don’t quite pull it all together with their dogsled journey into the Arctic.
As a Cirque circus, Wintuk, when compared to the Vegas shows or the latest sizzling tent show, Kooza, is underwhelming — charming but minor key. Its nine-song soundtrack, composed by Simon Carpentier with lyrics by Jim Corcoran, serves the action but never quite hits the Broadway value of “catchy.”
There are stunning moments. In the second act, the High Priestess of the North does a dazzling number with multiple silver hula hoops and Kylee Maupoux and Anke Van Engelshoven do an exquisite aerial straps pas de deux.
What everyone loves most of course, is the (tissue paper) snow itself, which drifts down over the audience at the finale.
This alone may make Wintuk stiff competition for the usual NYC holiday season shows, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the Radio City Musical Hall Christmas extravaganza.
This 21st Cirque du Soleil production is one of 15 active around the world. It will stay at the WaMu Theatre through Jan. 6.