Cole Bros. circus returns to Southern Maryland

Friday, April 24, 2009

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Extreme motorcyclists will enter the "Thunderdrome" during Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars.

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Cole Bros Circus of the Stars is intentionally designed to be a far cry from Cirque du Soleil. But eight-year ringmaster Chris Connors says this year's show combines some old and "nouveau."

Nouveau might refer to Russia's Svetlana Golobolova doing a gymnastics routine while suspended by an apparatus referred to as aerial silks.

"My main job is to keep the show running smooth and make some changes each year," Connors said during a phone interview.

Then there is the Toprasta Troupe. In its first year with Cole Bros., Toprasta's routine will include creating a three-tier, seven-man pyramid on the high wire. The Colombian group has been performing in the United States for 13 years, explained Felix Toscano, who has been with Toprasta for five of his 21 years in the circus.

Toscano said success in high wire and trapeze acts, like any performing art, requires concentration, respect and total dedication. His son began training at 6.

He said the Colombian circus is smaller and less business-like than the American circus. "There are differences about how it is set up," he said, "but all the time it's for the same people."

Expect the daredevils to enter the "globe of death" and "giant gyro wheel." Expect the clown crew, elephants, camels, jugglers, dogs, ponies, the "human cannonball" and the "world's funniest mule."

Prior to joining the circus, Connors had a lucrative broadcasting gig in the corporate world. But the circus is in his blood: His parents were members of Circus Fans Association of America and traveled to see every show within 100 miles of where they lived, he said.

Before replacing former ringmaster Jimmy James, Connors juggled magic and illusion shows around his day job.

Touring for 125 years, Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars claims to be the oldest American circus performing under the tent, or big top. As the story goes, founder W.W. Cole began his career in 1871 "by amassing fortune and fame and bringing to cities and villages the most astounding marvels of the day," a press release stated.

Connors said Cole Bros. circus, which performs on the East Coast for 10 months out of the year, has prospered during the economic downturn. Still, the act has become harder to book, he said, because more open lots where they might have set up shop in the past have turned into parking lots or house farms.

The tent, with room for almost 3,000 spectators, is not as grand — in terms of size — as it once was. But the tradition is timeless, Connors said:

"It's about being under the tent and entertaining children of all ages."

If you go

Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars will be held at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28 at St. Mary's County Fairgrounds, 42555 Fairgrounds Road, Leonardtown and at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. May 11 and 12 at St. Charles Towne Center, 11110 Mall Circle, Waldorf. Tickets are $17, $12 for children ages 2 to 12. Call 1-888-332-5200. Go to