The Greatest Show on Earth has arrived in D.C. and it has all you expect from the circus that boasts there is no better entertainment in the entire world: elephants; trapeze artists; lions and tigers and of course, clowns. The circus has an international flair with acts from Japan, Cuba, Algeria, and a lion tamer from Down Under.
The show opens with a fun number featuring dancing clowns throwing giant balls into the audience, trapeze artists, the entire cast dancing in the arena, and a mini fireworks display. The overall effect is very impressive. The first act is Riders of the Wind in which artists perform daring acts on horses followed by Skywheels of the West featuring motorcycles balancing on top of a thin tightrope with two women performing stunts underneath.
Next is an act where a lion tamer is in a cage with nine lions and tigers. At the performance we saw one lion seemingly become very angry at his master causing some gasps from the audience. I am not sure if this was part of the act, but it did add to the overall drama. Following the fearsome beasts are four lovely ladies who dance inside of floating transparent orbs suspended from the ceiling.
Other acts include a performance by trick-performing elephants, the Hair-Hanging Wonders of the West who spin in the air by their hair, several aerialist performances, dog tricks, and a comedic rendition of Rapunzel performed by clowns. Highlights of the show are the performances by Shaolin demonstrating feats of strength and featuring a jump through a ring of fire (followed by a clown reenactment of the same feats) and Globe of Steel in which eight motorcyclists in glow-in-the-dark helmets and clothing drive around a steel globe.
The theme of this year’s circus is Dragons and underlying the circus is the theme of seeing if one of the performers has the strength, wisdom, courage and heart to summon the dragon at the end of the show. My five year old son’s love of dragons borders on obsession and the circus posters he saw promising dragons had him very excited.
However, this part of the show is a let-down. Underwhelming skeletal dragons do appear at the beginning of the show, but are unimpressive. After that, dragons are barely seen and hardly mentioned. At the end of the circus, the “real” dragon is summoned and his fire-breathing abilities did impress my son for the few minutes he was on the arena floor. The grand finale also features all the performers and a short (but loud) fireworks display.
When I asked my son his favorite part his response was “all the motorcycles, the horses, the elephants, and the lions” so it is hard to pin down one best circus act. My daughter enjoyed the clown rendition of Rapunzel and the tigers. She also seemed mesmerized by some of the acts that involved performers suspended from the ceiling or flying through the air.
Before the circus begins there is an “All Access VIP Show” held on the arena floor. This starts one hour before show time and lasts forty minutes. Access to the pre-show and most of the activities is free. However, there is a moon bounce that costs $5.00 per child. During the pre-show there are clown performances, aerialist performances, a painting elephant, temporary tattoos, dress-up areas, and photo ops with clowns and on a motorcycle.
The pre-show at the performance we attended was so crowded, children had a hard time seeing any of the performances going on from the floor and did not enjoy it very much. Moreover, since the pre-show is only 40 minutes long you are left with 20 minutes with nothing to do while waiting for the circus to begin. Adding so much time onto a show that is long to begin with makes the trip to circus a very long one. I would recommend attending the pre-show only if your travel plans will bring you to the Verizon Center early, if you must have a photo with a clown, or if you have always wanted to stand in the arena or in a circus ring. Other than that, you won’t miss much if you don’t arrive early.
The circus will be in town from March 21st through March 24th. There is a 7:30 p.m. show on Friday, March 22nd and shows at 11:30 am, 3:30 pm, and 7:30 pm during the weekend of March 23 to 24. Children who have not yet reached their second birthday do not need a ticket. Tickets start at $15.00 and go up to $124.00. Stroller parking is available for free near section 117. Strollers must be left in the designated area, so you may not be able to take your stroller all the way to the section where you are sitting. There is some smoke and loud noises during the show, including a short but loud fireworks display at the end, so you may want to prepare your child in advance.
As is typical at events like these, toys and treats are available at every turn and in the arena itself before the show and during intermission. You may want to set ground-rules about potential purchases with your child before you go. I was surprised to see some small toys priced as low as $5.00 but most items are much more expensive.
Running time is approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission. Limited street parking is available during weekend performances. However, parking is much more limited now than usual due to the number of circus trailers taking up valuable parking spots around the Verizon Center. Additionally, most spots allow for only two hours of parking so plan your time accordingly. Street parking for weekday evening performances is extremely limited. Parking for the circus costs $27.00 at the Verizon Center garage. Slightly less expensive garages are available in the blocks surrounding the Verizon Center.
We recommended that you take metro. There are four metro stops located near the Verizon Center making it accessible from the Red, Yellow, Greet, Orange, and Blue lines. The Gallery Place-Chinatown station is located directly at Verizon Center (Red, Yellow and Green lines). Judiciary Square (Red line), Metro Center (Red, Orange and Blue lines) and Archives-Navy Memorial Penn Quarter (Green and Yellow lines) are within walking distance.
If you can’t make the circus in D.C., you still have the chance to catch it in Baltimore from March 28th to April 4th or at the Patriot Center April 10th to 21st. To sweeten the deal, discount tickets are currently available on Goldstar.com for both the Baltimore and Fairfax shows.