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Oh, man was that a good Cirque de la Symphonie show with the BPO

Oh, man.

That's what I kept saying, watching the Coffee Concert edition of Cirque de la Symphonie at Kleinhans Music Hall.

A troupe of top-notch cirque performers -- Russian, by the look of their names -- are joining the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell for a glittering variety of crazy stunts. I thought it would be good. Russell can be counted on to present a good show. But I didn't think it would be this good.

Two things in particular stunned me.

One was what unfolded during Leopold Stokowski's arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Two half-dressed strongmen appeared from the wings, walking toward each other with measured steps. That is how the program identified them, "strongmen." Their names were Vitaliy Prikhodko and Pavel Korshunov.

These two performed the most mind-boggling feats. One balanced on one hand on the other one's head, lifting himself up in the air as the bottom guy crouched to the ground, then raised himself up again. At another breathtaking moment, you had one guy standing with his feet on the ground. And the other guy was over him, doing a headstand on the lower guy's head. It was like seeing a guy doing a headstand reflected in a lake. Can you follow this? It's almost as hard to write as it must be to do.

Not to give everything away,  but other artists flew around in wide circles, high over the Kleinhans stage, and even out over the first rows of the audience. One man did so holding on with just one hand. Oh, man. Imagine what that must feel like.

Yet another marvel might sound silly, but in its way was just as impressive.

A circus performer stood there in a glittery gown. A jester stood next to her, and he dropped a scrim over her for just an instant. And presto, change-o! She was in an entirely new outfit. She did this again and again, each time more quickly.

Oh, man, not even I can change my clothes that fast! And I am good.

By now, if you're a classical music purist, I am afraid I am getting on your nerves. "That's fine, Ms. Kunz Goldman, you are saying. But how was the music?"

I honestly couldn't tell you.

That Bach, I don't think I heard more than the first few notes. I felt bad for Concertmaster Dennis Kim, soloing in Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre." Nobody heard him. Everyone was fixated on the derring-do of an astounding aerialist, slithering up and down a ribbon, turning and stretching this way and that, as her shadow splashed on the walls. Kim seemed mesmerized, too. I saw him looking.

"She looks like she has no clothes on," a woman behind me loudly declaimed.

Needless to say, the Coffee Concert was packed. It was so packed that, for the first time I can remember, the pre-concert donuts in the Mary Seaton Room ran out early, and donuts were served again at intermission.

Everyone seemed delighted with the show. I solicited the opinions of nearby patrons who had seen Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. They gave this show an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Russell led the orchestra through a powerful, very Russian "Night on Bald Mountain." Bernstein's "Candide" Overture had so much zip and crackle that it gave its accompanying act, a nimble juggler, a run for his money. Hmmm. I don't see the Bernstein listed in the program. Well, we heard it.

An aerial pas de deux brought out the romance of John Williams' March from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." And what fun it is to hear the "Sabre Dance" in the hands of the BPO. The musicians conveyed a great sense of enjoyment. I guess I did notice the music.

Russell kept things moving with his characteristic energy.

When a shirtless superman in pantaloons was cavorting his way off stage, the maestro led the applause. Then he followed, dancing and skipping. God love Russell -- he not only plays the part of the nerd, he rocks it.

When the aerialist who had eclipsed the Saint-Saens had slithered down her ribbon and was taking a bow, the conductor cracked, "Saturday night, we're going to switch."

Whatever happens Saturday, it will be memorable. "Cirque Symphonique" repeats at 8 p.m. Kleinhans.


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