The jungle comes to Life in Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy

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Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy is the first show of its kind to appear on Broadway, having debuted there in June 2008. Now it’s on tour and arriving at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Created and directed by Neil Goldberg, this exotic 2-hour encounter inspired by nature’s unpredictable creations are brought to life by an international cast of 25 soaring aerialists, spine-bending contortionists, acrobats, jugglers and musicians complete with over 150 spectacular costumes.

The stage setup when you enter the theater is a Technicolor-gone-wild color scheme that suggests what “The Lion King” may have looked like on magic mushrooms. The set quickly transports adults and children alike to the jungle. After a humorous start with some jungle clowns embarrassing some audience members, the story begins and the action rarely stops.

The plot is about bringing the jungle to life if the trees had a heart and a soul and if flowers really lived and if animals could really speak or express strength and beauty through physicality and grace. In the show the lizards contort as lizards do, the butterflies soar in the air with colorful elegance and frogs enthusiastically hop and “ribbit” across the stage. A jungle creature inspired every act and my favorite act resembled a giraffe with two men balancing themselves high in the air on a wobbly barrel. All the acts feature jaw-dropping feats of strength, balance and dexterity with most of these critter costumes weirdly obscuring evidence of the human shape within.

The show makes use of both prerecorded and live music. Through the stunts, the sound system blares impersonal, relentlessly pulsating disco music resembling a global-village sound. At some points, an incredibly tall tree becomes human and plays the electric violin while a Lady Bug sings bad pop tunes interspersed with commentary about the ecosystem. The amazing acrobatic stunts compensate for these disappointing elements in the show.

Some, like myself, might confuse this touring show with those produced by the famous Cirque du Soleil. It turns out the two companies, though similar, are not affiliated. Soleil is so grand that it requires huge tent-pole productions, but the Cirque Dreams shows are able to perform on local theater stages for a smaller and more intimate production, which also allows them to offer a more affordable price without compromising quality.

Goldberg created his theatrical entertainment company Cirque Dreams in 1993 with a vision “to blend European artistry with circus and Broadway theatrics in a dramatic fashion that transcends imagination, leaves its narration to the eyes of the beholder, and offers something for everyone.” Over one million fans throughout the U.S. have attended a Cirque Dreams show in the last year. If those shows are as impressive and family-friendly as Jungle Fantasy, then it’s clear that he has succeeded in his vision.

Cirque Dream Jungle Fantasy is playing February 18-21 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Tickets start at $20. Call 714-556-2787.

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