Cirque Eloize’s ‘Saloon: A fine slice of circus with a theatrical flavor

Cirque Eloize's 'Saloon' is now being performed at the Fox Theater, Foxwoods Resort Casino

Cirque Eloize’s ‘Saloon’ is now being performed at the Fox Theater, Foxwoods Resort Casino

With its Wild West setting, intriguing and versatile set design, elaborate Western costuming, carefree dance choreography, and the use of live music, we can understand why the audience at Cirque Eloize’s “Saloon” were a bit confused.

When the curtains rose on the show at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Saturday night, some in the audience apparently expected something akin to a Broadway musical. With its brief allusion at the beginning to a tale of a romance with a barmaid that leads to a conflict between two cowboys, they might have expected a storyline that ended with a satisfactory conclusion intermixed with explanatory songs, stunts, and dancing.

After all, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck. However, in the case of “Saloon,” despite its theatrical production values, this duck wasn’t a stage musical, it was a circus performance.

Modern day circuses, rather than taking a variety show approach as they historically did, like to package themselves with some kind of theme. There will be music and dancing, first to fill the gap as the stage is set for the next circus act, and secondly to provide a more satisfying entertainment package for audiences. Even the granddaddy of all circuses, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus, has taken this approach in recent years.

But if you haven’t been to the circus recently—either Ringling Bros. or something like Cirque Eloize—it’s understandable that you might be confused.

Now, aside, from the audience confusion, I found “Saloon” very entertaining.

The circus acts—such as the use of a human-size metal ring by one female performer to spin around and around across the stage—was beautiful to watch. I also enjoyed the acrobatic performance of the two female performers who spun high above the stage on what was supposed to be a chandelier. Also I enjoyed the “clowns,” who were translated into western archetypes such as a cowboy or slightly devious barber. And the final showdown had the right amount of “danger” to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

I loved the live music dimension of the show too. The bluegrass-Western swing songs added a punch and electricity to the performance. There were some backing tracks for the show to sweeten the instrumentation. But mostly, the playing of fiddles, pianos, banjos, guitars, and some of the drums were live.

I also enjoyed the versatility of the cast. With less than a dozen performers for the show, each one of them multi-tasked, either with different types of circus performances or by singing or playing an instrument or dancing mad variations on western hoedowns.

I also enjoyed the set design and the costumes. The set showed a great utilitarian purpose as it evoked the Old West while serving as a key apparatus for the acrobatics. The costumes could easily have veered into costume party territory, but there clearly was considerable thought in designing costumes that evoked the setting while still allowing the cast to perform their difficult stunts.

Yes, if you were expecting a Broadway show, you might have been disappointed by “Saloon.” However, but as a circus performance, Cirque Eloize’s “Saloon” was artful, entertaining, and definitely worth a 90 minute diversion from the gambling at Foxwoods.

I give Cirque Eloize’s “Saloon” 3 ½ stars out of 4.

Cirque Eloize continues at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mashantucket until Aug. 21. Tickets to Cirque Éloize Saloon begin at $35 and are available at www.foxwoods.com, by calling the Foxwoods’ Box Office at 800-200-2882 or in-person by visiting the box office.