OTTAWA - What do you get when you take the athletes from the Olympics and cast them into a Broadway musical?
Cirque du Soleil's Corteo.
Corteo opened Wednesday in the big blue-and-yellow tent beside the St. Laurent Centre.
Created in 2005, Corteo -- which means funeral cortege -- is Italian and is the first Cirque show with a storyline. The show is huge and requires 63 artists to go full tilt for three hours.
Playing in the round, it begins with a prelude, a sombre funeral procession. Alas, the only thing missing is the body. Measuring tape in hand, the mortician and his randy female assistant scour the audience looking for a person big enough to fit their blue coffin. The exhibitionists in the audience volunteer and are rejected while the introverts pretend to ignore the merciless clowns.
It's a hilarious prelude of what's to come.
It begins with a clown lying in his bed imagining what his funeral would be like. Dressed like a French farce from the 18th century, he levitates off the bed with the help of "angels" while acrobatic children do death-defying somersaults back and forth between two 600-lb. brass beds.
Later, four of the deceased's old girlfriends spin like whirling dervishes upside down from the bedroom's chandeliers.
Then, for no particular reason, a white face Pierret clown carries a candelabra upside down 60 feet in the air.
Over three hours, the parade of circus performers continues with a choreographed couple, a live marionette, jugglers, dumb golfers, beefy guys throwing small women acrobats back and forth high above the ground, a freestanding ladder climber, an eight-member gymnastics team that easily would have won the gold at the Beijing Olympics, a high-wire walker, Cyr wheel artists, jugglers, dancers, acrobats on a teeter board and a high-flying couple who do things with their bodies I didn't know a human body could do.
All the while, angels float overhead, one stopping to teach the clown how to fly and ride his bicycle across the sky while a Latin band and singer perform sad laments and love songs.
It's what the opening ceremonies of the Olympics might look like on LSD.
That sums up just about every Cirque show. Corteo delivers all the razzle-dazzle audiences have come to expect, but this time it pushes the humanity even further.
Corteo is whimsical and spectacular at the same time.
Personally, I loved the somersaulting dancers who open the second act, and the little clown who, suspended by six helium balloons, walks over the audience. She didn't seem to advance the story at all, but she was a funny, if a little off-putting, distraction. I mean, really, is that any way to treat a lady?
Also worth mentioning is the show's superb production skills and flawless execution.
Advance buzz for Corteo has been so strong that producers have added 16 performances and extended the show's run until Oct. 26.
However, the production isn't perfect. The lineup is forgivably uneven, thrown off by a couple of scenes that are surprisingly flat, including the crystal singing glasses, the golf scene and the "Teatro Intimo".
But these are minor blemishes on an otherwise superb production.
Tickets for Corteo are available online at www.cirquedusoleil.com or call 1-800-361-4595.
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