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Big top, big job, but Mom's up to it

KIDS & FAMILY

July 10, 2008|Alex Chun

Having conceptualized, directed, staged and choreographed video and live music tours for big time acts such as Paul McCartney, Mariah Carey and Madonna, Amy Tinkham is no stranger to traveling shows and large arenas.

But when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came calling with an offer to direct "The Greatest Show on Earth," even she had to take pause.

"It's such a daunting challenge that I thought there was no way I could do something like that," says the Northridge-based Tinkham. "But then my next thought was that I couldn't give a greater gift to my kids than to be the mom that makes the circus."

So when the 138th edition of the circus -- titled "Over the Top" -- comes swinging, tumbling and bounding into Staples Center beginning Wednesday, it will be filled with Tinkham's sensibility both as a mom and as a pop/rock music maven.

Borrowing from her arena show experience, the big top's ceiling will be utilized as a giant video screen to add ambience to the entire production. In addition, the show will feature costumes by Angus Strathie -- best known for his Academy Award-winning designs in the 2001 film "Moulin Rouge" -- and the Ringlets, the ringmaster's three Gwen Stefani-ish backup singers.

"There's much more pop sensibility than they've had before," Tinkham says of the production. "Some of the music in the show is a really good fusion of what the pop world listens to mixed with good circus performance music."

While "dressing up" the circus was fun and satisfying, the heart of the show is still its acts and performers, Tinkham says. "To me, the circus is not an aesthetic interpretation of things [a la Cirque du Soleil] -- it's real humor, it's thrilling, with a big beautiful opening number and traditional parade," she adds.

In selecting the acts, Tinkham says she was given carte blanche, aside from the mandate that she include a few stalwarts such as the animal acts. So together, she and her three children (whom she calls her primary focus group) searched through scores of performer DVDs looking for the right lineup.

Tinkham knew she wanted a traditional trapeze act and ringmaster, but she also wanted to mix things up a bit, hence the inclusion of Maria Garcia, a combination comedian/trapeze artist. "I wanted an act that was grown-up funny since the parents are sitting there too," she explains.

Also new to the show are the Bombastic Bouncers, a troupe of seven acrobats who launch themselves into the air with the help of giant inner tubes. This is the first time touring the U.S. for the Ukraine-based Bouncers, and with more than 100 performers hailing from as far away as China and Guyana, Tinkham says the circus was indeed the biggest show she's worked on.

"You know it's a big show when you stand there in the morning and talk to a giant cast that fills up the whole side of an arena, and that's not including the animals," she says.

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theguide@latimes.com

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RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS PRESENTS OVER THE TOP

WHERE: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A. (at Honda Center in Anaheim July 23-Aug. 3)

WHEN: Wed.-Thu., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., noon and 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.

PRICE: $15-$90 ($12 tickets are available opening night only); children under 2 are free.

INFO: (213) 480-3232; www.ringling.com

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