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MAKE-A-CIRCUS’ FUN-FILLED ‘JOURNEY’

Two hours of slapstick comedy, juggling, acrobatics, trapeze action, hot jazz and audience participation, all wrapped up in a fast-paced, funny play for kids can only mean one thing: The Make-A-Circus troupe of San Francisco is back in town for another summer tour of Southland parks.

What a treat.

And what a bargain: Aside from its opening evening performance at Anaheim’s Pearson Park Theatre last Thursday, it’s free, folks.

This year’s show--the troupe’s best yet--has a Middle Eastern setting. The story revolves around Abou (Rene Collins), a poor young boy who hopes to compete in the Sultana’s Grand Competition and become Royal Court Performer.

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“Abou’s Journey” takes him to a strange desert where he meets a lovely Golden Bird (Sharon Ostreicher, who also choreographs, performing graceful acrobatics on a rope high overhead) and a comic flying camel (Daniel Johnston, on stilts in camel costume with airplane wings). Helping Abou is a magical peddler (Letitia Bartlett, camping it up to humorous effect).

There are lessons in friendship and honor, and good, of course, prevails. When it is discovered that the Grand Vizier (Randy Craig) has fixed the competition in his nephew’s favor, the award goes instead to Abou’s dearest friend Shabazz (Patricia Howard).

Abou admits he wasn’t ready for the honor (indeed, Collins is not an inspired acrobat). His new-found wisdom is celebrated in a dynamite musical number called “Higher,” and it’s here that Collins shows what he’s got. Just give him a microphone and watch him shine.

As the Vizier’s nephew, cat-like, powerful Pierre Nadeau is a winner regardless, making the audience gasp with his daring trapeze tricks --his artistry is substantial. Exotic and lithe, Howard is a pleasure to watch, achieving a silky grace in her acrobatics, making her dance background obvious.

The show, written by San Francisco Mime Troupe member Andrea Snow and directed by Jeffrey Pressman, is simple enough for very young children and well-paced enough for adults.

The Make-A-Circus Jazz Band is another adult plus. No tinny hurdy-gurdy, but real jazz played by real musicians--percussionist Brett Cosby, Randy Craig on keyboard, Mark Kennedy on bass and Michael Moore on trumpet. It cooks.

After the first show, the troupe members conduct 30-minute workshops in stilt-walking, juggling, tumbling, clowning--all open to kids and adults alike--with a special class for the under-five set. Then, all participants take part in a scripted second show. For family entertainment, Make-A-Circus is a best bet.

Performances continue at Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach on Monday at 5 p.m.; at Glendale’s Verdugo Park on Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.; at Covina Park on Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., and at Victory Park in Pasadena on Thursday, 5 p.m. Free.

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