Sept. 20--After scheduling Matthew and Gunnar Nelson's "Ricky Nelson Remembered" for early September and the Pam Tillis Trio for November of the 2013 season, the folks at the Performing Arts Association felt they needed to book a very different show in between the two music acts.
"We were thinking, 'Gosh, there are two acoustic shows. We really need something with more variety,'" says Beth Sharp, the executive director of the Performing Arts Association.
With acrobats, dancers, jugglers, singers, comedians and gymnasts, few productions embody variety quite like Cirque Zuma Zuma. The internationally renowned show will be performed at 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Missouri Theater.
These circus-style variety shows have taken a gigantic leap in popularity since Cirque du Soleil became a staple of the Las Vegas entertainment scene in the '90s and early 2000s. While that company made a huge impact stateside, Cirque Zuma Zuma enjoyed sell-out seasons in Europe and an extended debut run in Australia.
Eventually, Cirque Zuma Zuma made its breakthrough in the U.S. when the group became a finalist on the 2011 edition of NBC's "America's Got Talent." Viewers were enthralled by the acrobats doing handstands on human pyramids and chair stacks that were 20 feet high. They were just as impressed by the women balancing and spinning tables and jars with their feet.
Sharp says those spots on television greatly increased the group's notoriety and national acclaim. At the very least, that's what she's hearing from the ticketholders.
"A lot of the excitement I'm hearing is from people who saw them on TV and thought they were excellent and actually rooted for them to win," she says. "A lot of people who are purchasing tickets said they're excited to finally see them live. And then we have some who said they saw them in Vegas and wanted to see them again."
But unlike Cirque du Soleil or even the thrilling Kansas City ensemble Quixotic, which performed at the Missouri Theater in February, Cirque Zuma Zuma offers performance art that has one true identity. It's one that's rich in African history and culture.
Each full-fledged Cirque Zuma Zuma performance includes Gabonese tumblers, Egyptian limbo dancers, South African vocalists and gumboot dancers, Ethiopian contortionists, foot table jugglers and Diabolo spinners, percussionists from Zimbabwe, balancing masters from Tanzania, multi-national club jugglers, clowns, comic magicians, pole artists and, of course, the world famous Zuma Zuma Acrobats.
Although the production is considered an international hit these days, Cirque Zuma Zuma started from humble beginnings in 2005. After traveling the world as an acrobat, circus and street performer, show producer John Jacob returned to Africa to audition talented youngsters from 16 African nations. From there, he founded a training school where Cirque Zuma Zuma performers could hone and perfect their incredible routines. The school now boasts a talent pool of more than 120 performers.
Every aspect of the production can be tied to an iconic piece of Africa. For example, the Zulu reed dance is a customary ceremony that celebrates the young girls. The ceremony is performed in the regions populated by the Zulus for their kings. Meanwhile, the synchronization of waving flags from different parts of Africa and tumbling is one of the historic exhibitions of Africa Day (the annual commemoration on May 25 of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963).
Unlike any other show, Cirque Zuma Zuma blends education with excitement.
"I think it draws on all kind of senses -- with the drums and the awe-inspiring visuals," Sharp says. "I think people will just feel the excitement even as they enter the theater and continue to watch the show."
Tickets to "Cirque Zuma Zuma" range in price from $12 to $45. For more information, call the Performing Arts Association at 279-1225.
Shea Conner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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