Ringmaster leaves 'em laughing

Anthony Luewellyn is dressed in a black three-piece suit and black-checkered brim hat.

It is an unusually conservative outfit for a man with a job that is decidedly unconventional.


He is center stage, and all around him are children screaming with joy, smiling parents, trapeze artists and circus animals, all waiting for the UniverSoul Circus to begin.

Luewellyn, who goes by the stage name Tony Tone, is in his first year as the ringmaster for the African-American big top, developed by Baltimorean Cedric Walker in 1994.


The circus includes performers from Trinidad and Tobago on stilts, a Dream Team of acrobats from Ethiopia, an aerial ballerina from San Francisco, a trampoline act from Colombia and a trapeze troupe from China.

But it is Tone who ties it all together.

In the show, which visited Baltimore earlier this year and continues touring through November, he comes out rapping to the 1980s song "Rapper's Delight," which is booming from the sound system.

He then moves into a Soul Train-style line. Members of the audience dance between two rows of onlookers who, in time, will join in with such oldies dances as the '60s mashed potato. There's even a break dancer from the audience.

Seconds later, Tone, breaks in with a little comic relief.

"You all just won ... an all expense paid trip ... back to your seat!" he says.

The crowd laughs and smiles.

During the two hour show, he's endearing, sarcastic and beguiling. All the while, he introduces each act.


But mostly, the Cleveland native is flexible, ready for the unscripted.

His training as a stand-up comic has prepared him for this role. He's opened for comedians Steve Harvey, Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock. He's appeared on HBO's Def Comedy Jam, BET's Comicview and NBC's Later.

He took this gig, he says, because "I just wanted to broaden my horizons, that's all."

He doesn't have the time to do comedy these days.

"I haven't been able to do anything on my off days," says the 35-year-old in a interview during the circus' stop in Baltimore. "I haven't done any stand-up since I started doing the circus this year. We opened up Feb. 7."

He says there's a difference between what he does now and his stand-up comedy act.


"It [the circus] is a different environment, you move around a lot. The crowd is all around you as opposed to right in front of you," he says. "I have to keep the overall structure of the circus together. I add little pieces of myself to each show."

He succeeded former DJ Calvin Dupree, who was known as Casual Cow to UniverSoul audiences and was ringmaster for 11 years.

Before Dupree, comedian Cecil Armstrong worked the ring for three years.

Hank Ernest, spokesman for the Atlanta-based circus, says the grueling hours and the demanding workload - two shows per day, 11 months of the year, including the weekends - scares off a lot of potential ringmasters.

They hope that Tone will stay a while.

Ernest says Tone plays to the diverse audience. The women scream, the children laugh. He makes everybody feel at home.


It's evident during the show.

Tone says he plans to travel with the circus for three years.

After that, "I am definitely going back to stand-up," he says.