By MIKE CHAIKEN
Sometimes you have to leave home, to realize its joys before you return.
That’s what happened for Johnathan Lee Iverson, the Ringmaster for “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Legends,” which comes to Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena next week.
Johnathan—who was named by Barbara Walters as one of the 10 most fascinating people in 1999— didn’t start on a trajectory to join the circus. As a youth, he had been a vocal prodigy as a member of the Boys Choir of Harlem. And then he went on to study voice at Connecticut’s Hartt School of Music, graduating in 1998.
Calling from a train on its way to Dayton, Ohio, Johnathan explained he had intended to pursue a career in opera or theater.
But then Ringling Bros. came calling.
When he was approached to be part of the iconic troupe, Johnathan said he didn’t know much about the circus as an art form. But he saw it was a “wonderful opportunity.”
In time, Johnathan became the circus’s biggest star—right behind the animals (which he said always is the biggest draw for fans), But although he was on top with the circus, Johnathan yearned for the life he was trained for—theater. So he stepped away from the circus to pursue other avenues—and he worked cruise ships, performed in off-Broadway shows, did some voice over work for animated movies, and worked as a freelance journalist.
“I needed to know what it felt like to hustle and struggle,” said Johnathan. “I needed to go through rejection and not be the hottest thing in the room.”
The experience gave him greater appreciation for the actors who do break through to become stars. “It takes endurance… it takes relationships.”
“That experience (away from Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey) made me more grateful of being ringmaster,” said Johnathan. “I missed the circus so much.”
Johnathan said he wouldn’t give up the experience away from Ringling Bros. for anything. But he realizes, “There’s nothing like this… I wake up with (the circus) on my mind. I go out socially and we talk circus. It’s in every fiber of your being… It’s what we are.”
When he was approached about returning, he said, “I jumped at the opportunity… I really felt this was my place… My place is here under the big top.”
Press materials explain the latest incarnation of the Greatest Show on Earth, “unites iconic circus stars with living mythological creatures in a celebration of the ‘Legends’ that have captured imaginations for centuries, Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson guides Paulo, the Legend Seeker, on his quest to discover real, living legends. Be thrilled by The Riders of the Wind, Cossack trick-riders who thunder into the arena on the backs of thoroughbred horses stealing your breath with their daring stunts. The Solar Hawks, a dream team of acrobats come together to amaze audiences by attempting three consecutive triple somersaults on a one-of-a-kind double-wide trapeze… Audiences will also witness Alexander Lacey and his legendary bond with his lion, majestic leopard and tigers during one of the most captivating acts. They all come together with more thrilling acts, and of course Ringling Bros.’ legendary Asian elephants.”
“It’s an innovative show and it’s a great show,” said Johnathan.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s circus comes to the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport: Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 24 at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Tickets start at $10 on select performances. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or go to ticketmaster.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN