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It's a 'Jungle' out there

The Baltimore Sun

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Many people dream of running away from home and joining the circus. Neil Goldberg had a better dream -- to create his own circus.

Tucked away in a cluster of Pompano Beach warehouses are the offices, circus school and design shops for Goldberg's Cirque Dreams Studios, a home-grown operation that has turned into an international entertainment conglomerate.

Although he has big plans to branch out into television and the Broadway stage, at the moment Goldberg is content sending his psychedelic European-style circus to college campuses, casinos and performing arts complexes, like the Hippodrome Theatre, where Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy opens for a week's stay Tuesday evening.

Goldberg, 50 and single, not only built his circus from a humble corporate events production business, but he also survived a six-year trademark lawsuit by Cirque du Soleil -- the Canadian circus company with five different shows currently in Las Vegas -- over the use of the French word "cirque."

"Anybody that was using the word, they basically wanted everyone stopped," explains Goldberg. "So, they went after several entities, all of whom either folded or caved in."

But Cirque du Soleil did not figure on Goldberg's tenacity.

"I was just very stubborn, because I believed in what I was doing. I believed that what they were attempting to do was wrong." Eventually, the conflict cost Goldberg's company $3.5 million in legal fees, but a federal court ruled in his favor, saying that the word "cirque" could not be trademarked.

Still, the impression lingers that Cirque Dreams is riding Cirque du Soleil's coattails. Goldberg scoffs at the notion. "You might look at the Cirque Dreams brand and say, 'Oh, yeah, someone's jumping on the Cirque du Soleil bandwagon, because of all the success that they've had.' When in reality, where I began, it was almost at the same time as them."

Besides, he argues, their products are vastly different in electronic intricacy and ticket prices.

"I am very much about not creating a pretense of what the human body can do onstage," says Goldberg. He travels the world to find unusual performers and contortionists, just like that other circus, but, "I don't need to surround them with multimillions of dollars of technology. I want the audience to be able to appreciate the creativity in as much of a simple state as possible."

Where a Cirque du Soleil show can typically cost an audience member $150, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy tickets range from $25 to $60 at the Hippodrome.

Goldberg's first public production, Cirque Ingenieux, was at Bally's in Atlantic City, N.J. Soon, Goldberg was in the circus business full-time. Except for the six years of the Cirque du Soleil lawsuit, when Goldberg took his circus productions overseas, his business has boomed, picking up partnerships with major corporations, including Six Flags and the Trump organization.

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy arrives at the Hippodrome near the end of a 90-city tour, the 12th cirque show Goldberg has produced since 1993. Describing the plotless show is tricky, but Goldberg says "the theme is being lost in this whimsical, fantastical, magical jungle where the trees come to life and the animals do strange things and the bushes move. The queen in our jungle is a ladybug, the tree character is this amazing 6-foot-5 Abercrombie-ish model who plays an amazing electric violin."

Then, it gets weird.

The show features 25 international performers and musicians -- aerialists, contortionists, strong men, balance artists and fantasy creatures -- who wear more than 150 handmade costumes in an otherworldly environment. The concepts for the cirque shows all come out of Goldberg's fertile brain.

"My inspiration comes 24/7," he says. "I can walk out into my studio and see an artist hanging from his feet or juggling balls while bouncing up and down, and I can think 'frog,' I could think 'butterfly.' I could think of a contortionist bending over backward into a 'lizard.'"

"Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" is at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St., Tuesday through Feb. 3. Tickets are $25-$60. Go to broadwayacrossamerica.com or call Ticketmaster at 410-547-7328.

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