On any given week, Atlantic City features just about every possible type of entertainment there is. Concerts, comedy shows, live revues and DJs are all standard issue for America’s Playground, but, for some reason, the circus has been a rarity here. That’s not to say that it’s never been done before, but a big top full of acrobats, clowns and daredevils of all varieties is pretty uncommon.
But that’s about to change as Showboat Hotel will host two separate circus events Thursdays to Sundays through Labor Day in their brand-new big top: A daytime family-friendly production called The Super American Circus; and a racier evening version known as Cirque Risque. Both shows are 90 minutes in length and boast a cast of 22 talented performers from all around the world.
But if you are picturing the kind of thing you saw as a kid in a giant arena, with three rings and a bunch of elephants, erase that from your mind. Both The Super American Circus and Cirque Risque are far more intimate — and animal-free — experiences.
“From the back row you can tell the color of the performers’ eyes,” says Tuffy Nicholas, the veteran producer behind Cirque Risque and The Super American Circus.
“The furthest seats back are less than 30 feet from the ring,” he says. So it’s very intimate. And that’s what people want today. The arena circuses just don’t work very well anymore. There are a few out there, but people want to be close and see the straining of the performer as they are pulling up into a one-arm handstand.”
Nicholas himself is a legend in the circus industry. Being the son of two performers — his father was a ringmaster who worked with Ringling Bros. Circus, and his mother was a polar bear trainer — Nicholas was essentially born into the business.
“I did almost everything in the circus,” he says. “As a young child I would vend peanuts in the seats, when I was around 12 I became an acrobat — I did tumbling, teeterboard and trapeze. Later, I worked a bit with wild animals, and then, when I was 18, I became a promoter. And once I knew how to manage and promote, I began producing my own shows.”
What to expectThough that same up-close experience will be there no matter which version of the circus you attend, there are a few distinct differences between the two shows.
The Super American CircusThis more traditional circus is all about thrills laughs and excitement — the kind suitable for all ages. Fans can expect aerialists, clowns, superheroes and wire-walkers, among other death-defying acts. It’s wholesome entertainment where you’d least expect it.
“Atlantic City is leaning more toward families now. It’s not only a casino town. And with Showboat putting in the largest arcade on the East Coast and having plans for a waterpark, the circus was a perfect marriage for the property and for Atlantic City,” Nicholas says.
The Super American Circus will feature a variety of hair-raising acts, but one stands out from the pack.
“Probably the biggest act is the Wheel of Danger,” “It’s like a giant pendulum that’s almost 40 feet high. And (circus performer) Mario Espana runs around the outside of it as it’s flying around in circles! I even get nervous when I watch it — and I’ve seen it a thousand times!”
Another stunning part of the show is the Globe of Death, an edge-of-your-seat performance which involves motorcycles riding ins ide a metal sphere while another live performer stands inside, hoping to not be killed by one of the riders.
And in addition to all of the death-defying acts, there will be lots of laughs courtesy of the clowns and plenty of popcorn, cotton candy and other classic circus foods and merch to satisfy both kiddos and parents.
Cirque RisqueThe Mr. Hyde to the Super American Circus’ Dr. Jekyll, Cirque Risque is everything you might expect from an adults-only circus in a town known for embracing vices.
“Let’s say it’s R-rated,” Nicholas says with a laugh.
What exactly does that mean? Picture scantily clad performers working with silks, chains, flaming hula hoops and more, along with a good amount of adult-themed humor and you’ll have the basic gist of it. Much of this falls in line with the traditions of the circus, it’s just tweaked a bit in a more naughty direction.
And though a sexy circus may seem like a wild new concept, it’s actually not the first of its kind. “Cirque du Soleil had a show called ‘Zumanity,’ which was similar to what we do. But I actually prefer our show,” Nicolas says.