CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey returned to Charleston Wednesday night with a show full of thrills, chills and very few spills.A modest crowd turned out for opening night, but the first night of the circus in town has never been a sell-out. Not everybody is willing to bring the kids out on a school night for a late evening, fill them up with cotton candy and circus food and try to get them up the next morning in time for the bus.Still, the crowd that came out was enthusiastic.Charleston, whether it's politically correct or not, still loves an old fashioned circus with elephants, lions and tigers. And it was a good show.
As usual, Ringling Bros. operated like a well-oiled machine, smoothly moving between acts and seldom giving the audience more than a moment to catch its breath.Highlights of the night included, as always, the famous Ringling Bros. elephants, which are a treat to see even when they're not doing any tricks.A simple pass around the stage would have sufficed, but the animals weren't the only things to see. Honestly, there are probably fewer animal acts these days.It was nice to watch "The Flying Caceres," an exciting trapeze act. I don't think last year's circus included a trapeze.There was also the Kiev Aerial troupe -- a group of women who performed inside of clear, Plexiglas spheres the aerialists could open and close during the show. There were also horse-riding Cossacks, which started off slow but became thrilling.Each Ringling Bros. show that comes to town has a grand theme that the acts are assembled around. This year's show was inspired by the dreams of dragons and an East meets West aesthetic, featuring lots of eastern acrobats and western daredevils.However, that was just window dressing. The real theme seemed to be jeopardy. This particular show pushed the illusion of actual danger much further than previous years. There were more than one instance where it looked like something could go wrong -- like with Alexander Lacey and his menagerie of lions and tigers.There were a couple of tense moments when it looked like his trained cats were starting to buck his authority, and one lion or another backed the trainer up against the edge of the cage causing gasps and a blanket of strained quiet to fall over the civic center.Lacey, perhaps expecting a bit more applause, told the crowd it was all for show.And maybe it was, but it was awfully hard to tell.