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A "Jungle" In Here

Date: Jun 24, 2008


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How did a nice Jewish boy from Long Island become a global entertainment impresario? In the case of Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy producer Neil Goldberg, it all started with the original Broadway production of The Miracle Worker.

"I was six years old, and that was the first theatrical experience of my life," recalls Goldberg, who's the founder and artistic director of Cirque Productions, which opens Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy at the Broadway Theatre on June 26. "The next day I started cutting up a shoebox to recreate the set I'd seen."

Flash forward to the 1980s, when Goldberg was working as a successful producer of extravagant multimedia events for corporate America. When IBM hired him to create an international event that would engage and entertain clients from a wide variety of cultures and languages, it was the beginning of a new chapter in his career.

"The mandate was to create something that would tell the story visually," Goldberg recalls. "That's when I found myself going to Paris cabarets, looking for unusual performance talent, and that's when I came across the whole 'Cirque' genre, which is the European equivalent of our American circuses."

Soon Goldberg was producing his Cirque shows for all manner of corporate clients in all corners of the world, from Monte Carlo to Miami Beach, and in turn he was also scouring the world for performers: Russian gymnasts, Mongolian contortionists, Chinese acrobats.

"My work has always been about an exploration of the imagination," Goldberg. "I can take the unreal and make it real onstage."

A corporate show for a pharmaceutical giant impressed a representative from Bally's Casino in Atlantic City, who soon offered Goldberg's Cirque Productions a venue to mount his first public show, Cirque Ingenieux. Soon after came Cirque Imaginique and, more recently, the Cirque Dreams franchise, with four shows currently playing around the word. Before alighting on Broadway, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy played 120 U.S. cities, and once it's done here it will head out for an extensive American tour.

Though Goldberg says he prefers that "the narrative be left up to the eye of the beholder," Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy has a sort of outline: an everyday fellow is lured into an enchanted by a singing Mother Nature, who reveals to him many lessons and wonders, from bungee-jumping frogs to contorting lizards and balancing giraffes.

Audiences familiar with the popular Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil may note some overlaps with the Cirque Dreams style. "Both brands have amazing acrobatics, performers from all over the world and a creative format that is a combination of various elements," Goldberg acknowledges.

But among the key differences is that whereas Cirque du Soleil has designed its work almost exclusively for standing tents, Goldberg has always conceived his Cirque shows for proscenium theatres. That's at least partly because Goldberg loves the illusions that only theatre can create.

"I've always believe it's not what you have but what you do with it," Goldberg explains. "So with a proscenium stage, it's a challenge to create that illusion that the audience is inside it, and the fourth wall isn't there, but that's what the audience thinks by the time show is done. They get lost in it."

Indeed, Goldberg admits that he enjoys sitting unobserved in a theatre seat and overhear audience reactions.

"Nobody knows who I am, so I sit in the audience at different places," Goldberg says. "And whether it's a four-year-old or a seasoned theatregoer, what I hear over and over is, 'Wow!' And, 'They're not going to do that--I can't believe they're doing that!' If at the end of the night I can hear a husband turn to a wife, or a parent to a child, and say, 'Wasn't that a lot of fun?', then I've accomplished what I set out to accomplish."

There's another reason Goldberg has always designed his shows for theatres rather than tents, and why this Long Island boy is excited to be coming full circle.

"After I built that shoebox set for Miracle Worker when I was six years old, I wrote my first Tony awards acceptance speech," Goldberg says. "I've had my eyes on the prize ever since! It's always been a goal of mine. So to come back to New York and showcase my creativity and imagination, which for so many years was unchanneled and untapped--it's a homecoming."

In short, Goldberg has reversed the old cliché: He's come home with the circus.

Click here for more information about Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy.