The crowd is riveted as Brian Miser climbs on top of a giant crossbow. He wears 20 pounds of protective gear -- a special suit with a hood, goggles, gloves -- because he's about to become a flaming arrow.
Ekaterina Borzikova douses Miser with fuel, lights him afire and triggers the machine. Miser soars from the bow, a meteorite rocketing across the arena's sky at 65 miles per hour. "I'm flying like Superman with no strings attached," says Miser, aka "The Human Fuse."
Meanwhile, new ringmaster Brian Crawford Scott stands on the circus floor. Last fall, Scott was waiting tables in Manhattan and had never even seen a circus. Now, he says he's mesmerized daily by Miser's fiery trajectory, convinced Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is, as billed, "The Greatest Show on Earth."
A NEW WORLD
Miser, Borzikova and Scott arrived at the circus from vastly different worlds. Miser says he knew since he was 8 years old that he would pursue the Big Top life. Borzikova was a teen gymnast in Russia when she joined as an acrobat. And Scott, 24, was taking dinner orders at City Winery last fall when a friend e-mailed him about an audition for a ringmaster job.
"The novelty hasn't worn off yet," he says.
Scott now lives on the circus train, like many of the more than 120 performers.
Besides narrating the show, Scott sings in three production numbers: "Fully Charged," "Think Big" and "Fire It Up," the latter belted out as Miser is preparing for flight.
In addition to lighting "The Human Fuse," Borzikova performs an aerial routine, hanging by her hands or upside down by her feet from two straps, spinning in an orange and pink unitard. "In the beginning you get really dizzy, and it's a little bit sickening," says the 31-year-old from St. Petersburg. "But you get used to it."
ALWAYS A DAREDEVIL
The act that elicits the most awe is Miser's. He grew up in Indiana, where his hometown, Peru, launched an annual amateur circus performed by children. "I want to do it, I want to do it," Miser says he told his mother back then. The daredevil was fearless on the trampoline during 10 shows each July.
After high school, Miser performed on the flying trapeze at Circus World in Orlando. He built a cannon, shooting a dummy until he got things right. In 1999 on an amusement pier in Japan, Miser missed landing squarely on the air bag that breaks his fall, and cracked three ribs, his pelvis and a foot.
ALSO AT THE SHOW
Circus-goers will be treated to majestic elephants that turn 360 degrees while balanced on small pedestals and 13 tigers that sometimes swipe at their trainer (other times, they just come close enough to kiss him).
Ticket holders hold their collective breath when a tightrope walker balanced high above the circus floor hoists a second man onto his shoulders ... that man goes on to leap through the air and lands on the shoulders of another performer perched on the high wire.
Other times during the show, Russian acrobats will seem to defy gravity as they tumble down a track at high speeds, somersaulting and flipping along the way. And of course, there are the circus darlings -- 12 clowns with exaggerated makeup, emotions and imitations.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
WHEN | WHERE: Wednesday-Sunday at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale. Showtimes 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. daily with additional 3 p.m. performances Saturday-Sunday.
INFO: 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Tickets include an animal open house 90 minutes before showtime and a preshow on the arena floor (starts one hour before performances), when ticket holders can interact with some of the performers.