Stepping Out

Up close and theatrical

Cirque Musica brings 'Holiday Wishes' to Long Island

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Coming to NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum: a triple whammy of circus, theater, and musical performance, which organizers predict will be a perfect way for families to reconnect with each other (not to mention with great traditions in entertainment) as the holidays approach.

It’s all courtesy of Cirque Musica — the spectacle created by Stephen Cook, a Florida-born, Texas-based producer who entered the holiday extravaganza market a decade ago, and — building on his career at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and affiliation with the Dallas Symphony – gave it a new flavor.

“The market is tough and there’s a lot of noise out there,” he says. “But what makes us stand out is the combination of elements, and the sheer bigness of what we do.”

Ten years in, Cook says this year’s show is proving once again that Cirque Musica has the formula right — offering an enjoyable family outing during a time of year when reconnection to the values of home and hearth is paramount.

To be sure, the show is big. Truckloads of equipment and crew descend on a venue to set the stage for an acrobatic extravaganza suffused with acrobatic athleticism and magical high wire buzz designed to bring on the thrills. There’s a full orchestra on stage, a cast of Broadway-caliber performers and circus acts, handpicked from the U.S., Eastern Europe and Ethiopia.

“The show is very theatrical and we have the best acts from around the world,” says Cook.

By contrast, the storyline is simple and intimate, touching on the enduring theme of families reconnecting in today’s age of digital isolation.

In the production, a family escapes the ‘day to day’ distractions of their life, are transported to a star, meeting a Wishmaster who helps them through a journey to find themselves and each other. Along the way, they experience flying violinists, high-wire performers, acrobats in duel-cylinder Wheel of Death and more.

The up-close and personal experience is reinforced and made more interactive when, after the show, the entire cast files out into the lobby for a meet-and-greet with the audience (with selfies). “We like to thank the audience,” says Cook. “It’s cool for the performers, it’s cool for the audience too.”

And the music? Decidedly familiar, and holiday-themed, but professional and polished, and “big,” according to director Antoinette DiPietropolo, a New York-based director and choreographer who knows a thing or two about combining music, theater and circus (she’s directed for Big Apple Circus, Fame national tour, and done countless smaller productions across Long Island, including the John Engeman Theater, Bay Street Theater, Argyle and Gateway Theater).

“An ordinary circus has eight or nine band members up in a balcony,” she says. “With a full orchestra, the musical component is more than incidental or supportive — it fills the space. Be prepared for classic holiday music, some of it driven by New Age orchestration, and some of it sung by Broadway quality singers to remind us of the holiday tunes we all know.”

DiPietropolo explains that earlier generations of Americans learned to love classical music while watching Sunday cartoons, surreptitiously attaining a foundational literacy in classical music which has lasted them their whole lives. It’s something that has been lost, in her view, which is why she thinks it so important that the Cirque Musica show is able to introduce a new generation to classical music.

As one might expect, the show has plenty of technical pizzazz and theatrical polish, but it is still a ‘live’ experience, all with just enough uncertainty inherent in a circus-style show that makes for a thrill a minute.

“Not everything is perfect every night,” laughs Cook. “But that’s part of live performance —it’s different from watching something on your iPad. But let’s face it, it’s a New York show. We have to bring our ‘A’ game every day, but you know we will be putting our best foot forward.”

The world of holiday entertainment is a competitive one, admits Cook, and if producers don’t have a good formula with which to stand out from the crowd, finding their niche in a crowded field can be tough. But by merging the worlds of theater, circus and musical entertainment, he’s sure Cirque Musica has found its formula.

That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the Cirque Musica experience. It’s roots, according to Cook, go back in his childhood, when he had his first circus experience as a 10-year-old in Florida.

“That was the year I was picked to be ‘the kid in show’ at a Ringling Brothers performance,” he recalls. “I have never forgotten that moment! And I was reminded of it a few days ago at a show in Seattle. In the audience I saw three little girls in their Christmas outfits with their family and I thought, they’ll remember this a long time, maybe their whole life.”

“It’s a responsibility we take seriously. We create memories for people.”

Cirque Musica Presents Holiday Wishes

When: Saturday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m. $38.50- $88.50. Tickets available at the Nassau Coliseum Box Office, (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.

Where: Nassau Coliseum, Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale.