Cirque du Soleil's latest touring production to set up its tents in New York City has a number of elements that will be familiar to Cirque aficionados. There are clowns who amuse but overstay their welcome, an "innocent" who wanders into a magical world, music that is alternately upbeat and haunting, and acts featuring remarkable acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, and other talented folk from around the world. Kooza isn't as aesthetically striking or as musically compelling as some earlier Cirque shows, but the thrilling acts compensate for any artistic shortcomings.
As usual, it's an impressive production. A huge, moving multilevel set houses the musicians and singers. The rigging for the acts goes up and down quite quickly, which helps keep the show moving. Some performers do their daring stunts without nets, which makes the acts scary as well as exciting. For instance, the Wheel of Death features two men risking their lives inside-and then on top of-two giant metal wheels. (Think habitrails with people running in them instead of hamsters.)
Other performers use harnesses or nets, but their acts are still breathtaking. The four-person highwire act is terrific. So is the Chinese chairs, in which an incredibly fit young man balances himself on an ever-taller tower of chairs. The performers who stay (mostly) on the ground show off impressive skills too. Three contortionists bend themselves into seemingly impossible positions, a unicycling duo manages not to tumble, and a juggler dazzles with a lightning-fast routine. The Trickster (Mike Tyus), who introduces the Innocent (Stephan Landry) to the world of wonders, has some serious spring in his step. Capping the show is a group teeterboard act that climaxes with performers somehow doing flips on stilts.
While the clowning becomes a bit tiresome for some of us jaded reviewers, it usually has the kids in the crowd laughing. The music sounds generic at times, especially in the first half, but gets better in the second half thanks to the lively title song and other diverse tunes.
All in all, Kooza lives up to Cirque du Soleil's high standards, delivering plenty of thrills and chills along with a few laughs. Kids and adults of all ages will find it entertaining, as long as they don't worry too much about the performers' well-being.
Kooza continues at Randall's Island through June 7.