Review: Knott's 'Boom Town' mixes cirque acrobatics, gold rush fever

Over the years, cirque-style shows have dealt with themes as wide-ranging as Hollywood and 1960s counterculture, magic and martial arts, evolution and sexuality, fairy tales and mythology, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

But cirque meets the Wild West? That was something I wanted to see.

I caught the new "Boom Town" cirque show at Knott's Berry Farm during an annual passholder preview over the weekend. The new stage show combines the modern circus arts and street performance made famous by Cirque du Soleil with a story steeped in the California gold rush.

Performed by Las Vegas-based Cirque Mechanics, the 20-minute show at the Buena Park theme park mixes aerial acrobatics, trampolines, contortion and gymnastics with cowpoke humor to tell a simple visual story that requires little dialogue beyond a single word: "Gold!"

Cirque Mechanics, a performance troupe that strives to recall Victorian-era circus caravans, draws its mechanical moniker and artistic aesthetic from the modern Steampunk movement inspired by the period.

During the Knott's show, which will be performed twice nightly Wednesday through Sunday throughout the summer, the nine-member "Boom Town" cast leaped, flipped and twisted its way across the Calico Square stage in pursuit of an ever-elusive golden nugget during a dynamic and energetic performance.

"Boom Town" opens with a clowning miner sporting a "Duck Dynasty" beard who stumbles upon a giant chunk of gold. Soon enough, the entire town of lithe and limber 49ers is after the prize.

I found the tilt poles routine to be the most ingenious of the "Boom Town" circus acts. The set piece involves a pair of Chinese poles that the acrobats shimmy up and down while performing stunts. The twist: the poles toggle back and forth like a musical metronome with the help of a pulley line.

My heart skipped a beat during every aerial acrobatics feat performed on the wagon wheel chandelier. The acrobats performed solo and tandem twirling hoop maneuvers while suspended 18 feet above the stage -- all without a safety harness, net or padding.

Less successful were the hand-standing contortionist and balancing rolla bolla routines, which seemed to go on twice as long as necessary. I understand the need for pacing in a show, but the solo acts could be shortened in favor of more madcap action involving the entire ensemble. I trust Cirque Mechanics will make adjustments to the show, which is culled from a 90-minute nationally touring program. 

Fittingly, the trampoline finale was my favorite part of the show. With a trampoline cleverly hidden inside a rolling iron ore car, the acrobats performed flying flips, twists and splits that had them sticking landings all over the multi-leveled stage.

Knott's has made an effort this summer to step up its entertainment offerings in hopes of encouraging visitors to stay later into the evening. The park unveiled a revamped "Snoopy Unleashed" ice show along with a slew of live bands playing country, classic rock, doo-wop, salsa and rockabilly. Adding to the atmosphere, Wild West walk-around characters like Sherriff Jebediah Smith and Blackjack Jackson regularly mosey through Ghost Town talking with visitors and posing for photographs.

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