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Review: Ringling Bros. circus at Nassau Coliseum full of fun feats

On Friday, May 12, 2017 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an American institution born 146 years ago, began its last run of performances Friday night at the new Nassau Coliseum. After more than a decade of legal battles with animal rights groups and a decision last May to pull its Asian elephants from shows, Ringling announced its closure in January following an unexpectedly sharp downturn in attendance. (Credit: Newsday / Christopher Ware)

On opening night Friday, the elephant in the room was the room itself. As of the final bow a week from Sunday, Nassau Coliseum will become the last place the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performs in its 146-year history.

But ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and fellow two- and four-legged performers gamely celebrated what is still proclaimed “the greatest show on earth” before a near-capacity crowd.

Elephants, of course, were not in the room. They were retired after years of protests by animal welfare advocates. Although they’ve won their battle against Ringling, about two dozen pickets gathered at the Hempstead Turnpike entrance to the lot of NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “Minutes of entertainment, lifetime of misery” read one sign picturing a lion.

Big cats were much in evidence inside the arena as trainer Alexander Lacey directed 14 through a desultory performance, except for two tigers who walked upright across the caged ring and a male lion who lap-danced (sort of) the trainer.

Kids and their parents relate to smaller animals. Dogs of all sizes did their usual athletic stunts to oohs and ahs. But it was delightfully comic to see them joined by two behemoth hogs, plus goats, llamas and a lone kangaroo who, naturally, outjumped them all.

Among humans, the Tunziani trapeze artists just missed a four-revolution somersault and catch. The Fearless Torres motorcyclist family spun at blurring speeds, up to seven bikes in a mesh globe barely large enough to contain them. The King Charles Troupe, fresh and flashy in their Globetrotters-on-unicycles contest, were decisive winners. Jester Davis Vassallo led the clown contingent in distracting us from setups for the next attraction.

The theme to this last-ever Ringling show, “Out of This World,” introduces a video game spaceship-on-ice concept — too late to be saved by a younger generation. The ringmaster competes with “evil” Tatiana Tchalabaev for the galaxy’s best circus performers. Among them are Circus of Fire stilt-walkers and skate acrobats slashing on ice, and the Cossack Riders: To describe it would give away one of their amazing feats without doing it justice.

The finale parade ends with the evening’s only downer. “These are our last shows,” Iverson says. “I hope we’ve given you a lifetime of entertainment.”

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: ‘Out of This World’

WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21; 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday; 7 p.m. Friday; Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale

TICKETS $30-$138; ringling.com, 800-844-3545

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