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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Now that's a "ta-da" moment.
Now that's a "ta-da" moment.
Not sure what to think about this guy. He was strong. And waving a flag with his feet.
Not sure what to think about this guy. He was strong. And waving a flag with his feet.
Not a real clock.
Not a real clock.
And then there was an elephant.
And then there was an elephant.
The band.
The band.

Dead Man's Carnival kept the old-timey spirit alive

For the first time in a few years, I went out on New Year’s Eve. I did the whole thing: ate out in a festive Mexican restaurant, went to a show, smooched at midnight, stopped in at a bar where drunkies angrily chest bumped, and most importantly, zipped around on the bus. 

The bulk of the evening was spent at the Oriental Theatre, checking out the Dead Man’s Carnival for the first time. As a former Riverwesterner, I had seen some of these folks for years doing their Vaudevillian, carnival acts individually or in small groups, but never as the full-on circus.

I enjoyed last night’s show for the most part, but unfortunately, the venue wasn’t quite right. At first, the Oriental sounded like the ideal place to see an "adult circus," but the crowd was too large for the small (but really hardworking) staff. 

Because the theater is not really a bar and because it was New Year’s Eve and most people had their drinking boots on, the liquor lines were insanely long and slow.

And the show started almost an hour late (just before 11 p.m.) And the sound wasn’t very good. And the acts varied from impressive (see video below) to "almost but not quite."

But. The Ragtime Boogie Woogie House Band was really good. And the set looked really nice. And the spirit of the show was genuine and old-timey with a few stand-out acts. (At one point a showwoman interacted with a balloon twisted into human form and there was this part of the act when the balloon "person" climbed up her body, so similar to the way my own children have climbed up mine. For a moment, I was truly moved.)

In short, the Dead Man’s Carnival reminded me of what I will always love about the Riverwest neighborhood – as both are packed with passion and potential.

Last night I was hoping for more. I'm not even sure what. Sword swallowing? Flame juggling (OK, so there are fire codes in theaters)? Just more of whatever jawdropping steampunk madness these indie carnies could dream up.

And I will see the carnival again. The troupe performs monthly, from February to November, at the Miramar Theatre, 2844 N. Oakland Ave., a smaller venue with a bar.

Performing on such a large scale was undoubtedly a learning experience for the group and it really is a rare opportunity to see such simple yet captivating entertainment that, for the most part, time forgot.

This was among the best few moments of the show. Gypsy Geoff (Geoff Marsh) spun a bucket on top of a chair which was on top of a broom which was resting on his chin. And then the audience threw marshmallows – which had been handed out earlier – trying to get ‘em in the spinning bucket. I missed.


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