Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends

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(Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Presents Legends is currently playing the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area through April 19. Check dates and buy tickets here.)

Ah, the circus. Just the word conjures up so many different images, thoughts, and emotions. For some, going to the circus was an indelible part of childhood. For others, it’s been something to share with their own children.

For many, the circus–and particularly Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey–has become a lightning rod for controversy. Claims of animal neglect and abuse seem to dog the circus at every turn. Protesters are a common sight outside host arenas. And online activism is a more-or-less constant force against the circus.

And it’s taken a toll. Indeed, Feld Entertainment (the company that owns Ringling Bros) recently announced that it would eliminate elephants and elephant acts from all of its shows. After 145 years, they will be pulled from all Feld-owned circuses by 2018.

Some are declaring this a success, whereas others claim it’s merely a first step in the right direction.

On the flip side, there are those who side with Ringling and maintain that elephants are a defining characteristic of the traveling circus. The claim is that if you remove them, then there’s not much left.

It’s so easy to side with one of the extremes on this issue and add your voice to the chorus. Indeed, the voices at both extremes seem to be the loudest. However, I’m honestly somewhere in the middle.

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Broadway on Tour: Annie

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I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point in the past few months my daughter became obsessed with Annie. The musical. She can sing “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” with the best of ’em, and she’s only 6. We’re thinking about dyeing her hair red and bringing her to auditions.

Her Annie obsession came just after the Broadway revival ended its run (in January 2014), but we were thrilled to learn that the show is now on a national tour! It’s currently playing at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music before moving across the country through the summer. (Check cities and dates here.)

It was therefore with much excitement that we recently had a daddy-daughter evening at the opening night performance of Annie in Philadelphia.

And what a night it was. Annie did not disappoint. The audience was a mix of families with young kids and older couples, and everyone seemed equally enchanted by the production, the songs, and the young actors on stage.

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Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament (Baltimore)

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I have to admit, I didn’t quite know what to expect as we walked into Medieval Times. I mean, the reputation kind of precedes it (i.e., The Cable Guy), so I suppose I was prepared for an evening of cheesy theatrics masquerading as entertainment.

I was not prepared to be genuinely entertained…and surprised at how well-executed the entire experience is.

We visited the Baltimore Castle, which—despite the name—is actually located about 20 minutes south of Baltimore.

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Disney on Ice: Worlds of Fantasy

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(Disney on Ice Presents Worlds of Fantasy is currently playing at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, through Monday, February 16. Buy tickets here. The show is currently touring around North America, and there are lots of dates in lots of different cities, so check the full calendar to see if it’s playing near you.)

Disney on Ice seems to be in the area every few months, and it seems like it’s a different show each time. Indeed, there are currently six different touring shows, and each is a bit different.

Worlds of Fantasy does its best to appeal to the entire family by splitting the show up into four segments—apparently two for girls and two for boys. Your mileage may vary. My daughter loved the “boy segments,” and my son enjoyed those ostensibly meant for girls.

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Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show

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A trip to Walt Disney World is fairly expensive if you do nothing but visit the parks. But then there’s meals, special events, tours, and merch, merch, merch! If you’re not careful, your trip can easily break the bank and spill over into excess. Even if you ignore the rest of Central Florida, there’s just a ton to do on Disney property.

We don’t visit all that often, but when we do, we like to try new things. And I usually budget for one splurge event. On our most recent trip, that splurge was the luau at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Officially, it’s called Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, but that’s a mouthful. I’m just going to call it the luau.

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Monster Jam

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So, Monster Jam is one of those things I’ve heard about forever but have never actually seen live. Anyone who’s ever listened to the radio has probably heard one of those obnoxiously loud commercials: This Sunday! (Sunday! Sunday!)

This past weekend, Monster Jam came through Washington, DC, and I finally had the opportunity to go. What should you expect?

Noise. Lots and lots of noise.

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Backstage at Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion + 5 questions!

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We recently attended one of the final performances of Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion (in Charlottesville, VA), and Zoey had the opportunity to interview one of the performers before the show…who was also kind enough to give us a backstage tour after the show!

Over the summer, we had the opportunity to tour Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters in Montreal. The kids loved the tour and seeing how everything was made, but this performance of Dralion was the first time they saw a live Cirque du Soleil show in person.

Surprising no one, they loved it. Read our review for details of the show itself.

Before the show, Zoey sat down with Alejandro “Toro” Cuenca, who is one of the main performers in the trampoline act. During the act, Toro and three other aerialists use trampolines to seemingly float through the air and walk up walls. It looks like a blast, and I’d love to try it sometime.

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Disney’s The Little Mermaid

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Disney’s The Little Mermaid

  • playing at Olney Theatre Centre (Olney, MD)
  • dates: now through December 28, 2014
  • directed by Mark Waldrop
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Can you believe Disney’s The Little Mermaid is having its 25th anniversary this year? Hard to believe, I know. Ariel is all grown up.

Timed to coincide with this anniversary and capitalize on the perennial appeal of that red-headed mermaid, Olney Theatre Center in Olney, MD (about 45 minutes from both DC and Baltimore) recently launched its performance of the stage version.

Is it ok to use the word splashtastic? Probably not, but I will anyway. This production is very, very good.

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Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol

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Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol

  • playing at Adventure Theatre MTC (Glen Echo, MD)
  • dates: now through January 1, 2015
  • directed by Jerry Whiddon
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Christmas is coming. This invariably means performances of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol are (or soon will be) everywhere. Children’s theater is no exception. I’ll admit that we went into Adventure Theatre’s production of Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol expecting it to be a scaled-down, “family-friendly” version of Dickens’s classic story.

Thankfully, we were wrong.

This show is funny—refreshingly, surprisingly funny. It’s not something you really expect out of A Christmas Carol, but the sharp script and fantastic acting combine to present the funniest version of the story you’re likely to see outside of Bill Murray’s Scrooged.

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Cirque du Soleil: Dralion

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(Dralion is currently playing at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA, through Sunday, October 26. Buy tickets here.)

Let me begin by saying that I thought we had never seen Dralion before. Halfway through the show, we realized that we had. (The clown act gave it away for us.) That’s how many different Cirque du Soleil shows we’ve seen. We’re in the double digits now.

To say we’re fans is putting it mildly.

For the purposes of this site, please feel free to check out our visit to International Headquarters in Montreal and our review of the touring show Varekai.

Dralion is one of the longest-running Cirque du Soleil shows (if not the longest-running). It premiered in 1999 and has been touring the world for the past 15 years. Sadly, though, the show will come to an end next year, ending this impressive run.

Therefore, if you want to see this one and it’s coming near you soon, I’d highly recommend you catch it before it’s gone forever.

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Upcoming: Cirque du Soleil: Dralion

show_dralionCirque du Soleil’s touring show Dralion is coming to Charlottesville, VA—and just in time for homecoming at the University of Virginia!

If you’ve read The Roarbots for any length of time, you know that we’re fans of Cirque du Soleil. Check out the recap of our tour through International Headquarters in Montreal and our review of another touring show—Varekai.

Dralion premiered in 1999 and has been going strong (in front of some 11 million people) ever since. Similar to Varekai, the show began its life under the big top but is now performed in arenas. If our experience with Varekai is any judge, they haven’t sacrificed quality at all to make this transition.

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The Night Fairy

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The Night Fairy

  • playing at Imagination Stage (Bethesda, MD)
  • dates: now through October 26, 2014
  • directed by Jeremy Skidmore
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Flory is a Night Fairy who is attacked by a bat. When her wings are damaged in the struggle, she is forced to learn how to survive in the daylight among the other birds and animals in a typical backyard. During her adventures, Flory makes new friends and eventually reconciles with her foe. By the time her wings begin to sprout back, Flory has discovered a renewed sense of creativity, diplomacy, and resilience that she never knew she had.

It’s no secret that we love Imagination Stage. We’ve been to nearly every show since Zoey was old enough to sit still, and her favorite play ever was an Imagination Stage production (Anime Momotaro–which also happens to be the best children’s theater performance I’ve ever seen).

Upon first seeing The Night Fairy poster at a performance of The BFG, Zoey was hooked. She had to see it.

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Big Apple Circus: Metamorphosis

BIgAppleCircus(Big Apple Circus is currently playing at the Dulles Town Center in Dulles, VA, through Sunday, October 5. Buy tickets here. The show then moves back to New York for the holiday season, through January.)

The Big Apple Circus is probably best described as a happy marriage between a traditional circus (think Ringling Bros) and Cirque du Soleil. There’s a nice mix of acrobatics, contortionists, jugglers, and small animal acts.

It’s a bit more “fun” for little kids than Cirque du Soleil might be (and certainly more affordable), and it avoids the large animal acts that often plague larger, more traditional circuses. (There are no elephants, lions, or tigers.)

The conceit here is fairly simple: the Big Apple Circus presents a one-ring circus underneath a big top with an old-school ringmaster between acts. It’s almost enough to transport you back to the Dust Bowl. Almost.

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Marvel Universe Live!

MarvelLive_stageThere’s no denying it. The Marvel Universe is huge. For much of my youth, it always played second fiddle to competitor DC Comics–who seemed to have the somewhat unfair advantage of Superman and Batman.

However, for much of my kids’ lives, Marvel has simply dominated the pop cultural landscape. The Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with unlikely B-list superhero Iron Man in 2008 and hasn’t had a flop (or genuinely bad movie) since.

Since then, Marvel and the Marvel characters have dominated the big screen, the small screen, the direct-to-DVD market, toy aisles, and now…arenas.

Marvel Universe Live! is a new production from Feld Entertainment, the group behind other kid-friendly arena shows such as Disney On Ice, Disney Live!, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

There was a lot of hype leading up to the premiere of Marvel Universe Live!, and I for one was very intrigued. We finally got the opportunity to see the show last weekend in Fairfax, VA.

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Cirque du Soleil: Varekai

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(Varekai is currently playing at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia through Sunday, September 14. Buy tickets here.)

It’s no secret that the Roarbots love Cirque du Soleil. We’ve see eight different shows and recently had the amazing opportunity to tour the International Headquarters in Montreal. If you haven’t read our trip report from that tour, make sure you go and do that right now.

Go ahead. We’ll wait for you.

Whereas other groups try to cash in by using the word cirque in their name but end up delivering mixed results of varying quality, Cirque du Soleil is the original. They’re who those other guys are mimicking, and they consistently deliver stellar performances of the highest quality possible.

Varekai is no different.

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Upcoming: Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy

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It’s no secret that the Roarbots are fans of acrobatics and the whole “artistic circus” genre. (See our tour of Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters here.)

Cirque Dreams is in this same category and has been around since 1993, entertaining audiences around the world in theatres, casinos, theme parks, and at sea on cruise lines. They have a number of different performances touring at any one time.

Their newest show is called Jungle Fantasy and is currently touring the United States. Created and directed by theatrical and circus impresario Neil Goldberg, Jungle Fantasy is an exotic encounter inspired by nature’s unpredictable creations that are brought to life by an international cast of soaring aerialists, spine-bending contortionists, acrobats, jugglers and musicians.

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Upcoming: Marvel Universe Live

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One of the best things about the recent explosion in popularity of the Marvel universe (aside from the movies) is all of the “extra stuff” that never would’ve happened if the movies hadn’t been such a success.

The Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. exhibit in Times Square is one example. Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheroes is another. The Iron Man Experience (opening 2016) at Hong Kong Disneyland is a more distant example.

Yet another is the currently touring Marvel Universe Live! Quite possibly, it’s also the one I’m most looking forward to. Produced by Feld Entertainment, the group behind the Disney On Ice shows (among other things), Marvel Universe Live! is an original, live-action arena show that brings together an impressive 25 Marvel characters.

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The BFG

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The BFG

  • playing at Imagination Stage (Bethesda, MD)
  • dates: now through August 10
  • directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer & Eric J. Van Wyk
  • Roar Score: 5/5

“Words’, he said, ‘is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.”

Since my kids were very young, we’ve been fans of children’s theater. Indeed, many of the earliest plays and puppet shows we’ve attended are already out of their memory. With several fantastic theaters in the area, Zoey’s been to more plays in her five years than many people will ever see.

Imagination Stage in Bethesda, MD, consistently puts on some of the best children’s theater in the region. Some of their performances are among the best I’ve ever seen. Their production of Anime Momotaro in 2013 ranks not only as the finest piece of children’s theater I’ve ever seen but also among the best theater I’ve ever seen. Period. (And I’ve seen a lot of Broadway shows.)

Their current show is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, and they’ve got another certifiable winner. Blending traditional theater with larger-than-life puppets is nothing new (even for Imagination Stage, which utilized the approach for Aslan in their production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe), but the giants here are simply captivating.

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Pixar in Concert

I’m a sucker for films projected with live orchestral accompaniment. My first exposure to it was when Wolf Trap performed the entire score to Fellowship of the Ring in 2008 (followed by Two Towers in 2009, Return of the King in 2010, and then Fellowship again last year)…God bless Wolf Trap, really. They’re doing the geeky lord’s business.

When we saw that Wolf Trap had only one scheduled performance for Pixar in Concert, we jumped at the chance to get tickets. I mean, come on now, who doesn’t love Pixar?

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Beauty and the Beast Musical – review

Let me be clear. I have a 5-year-old daughter who has a “mixed” relationship with princesses, particularly of the Disney variety. She likes the characters (most of them, anyway) and tolerates their presence in her toybox, but—4 times out of 5—she patently refuses to watch the movies. Ariel? She loves the character. Sings the songs. Has the LEGO sets. We also have the Bluray, but it’s still in the shrinkwrap, months after she got it. She won’t watch it.

So it was with some hesitation that I forked over the cash to get tickets to the Beauty and the Beast musical when it came to town this past weekend. Of all the princess movies, Beauty and the Beast is probably her favorite. She’s seen it a few times and enjoys it. She really enjoys the music, and she really enjoys live theater, so I figured this was a gamble worth taking.

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