The basic format's pretty much the same as it has been for the past 120 years - lots of animals, three rings of the best clowns in the business, plenty of edge-of-your-seat aerial daredevils, and - for the first time ever in the United States - the hottest young animal trainer in Europe.
Flavio Togni.You've heard of him, of course. In recent weeks, as the dates for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus drew nearer, his name was emblazoned in neon-hot colors on billboards all over town, in newspaper ads and stories, and on television commercials.
Cutting through the hoopla and the hype, you'll find that Flavio really is very good. Bristling with youthful energy, charming boys and girls of all ages with his "let's have some fun" smile, and daring to go slightly against the grain in presenting his well-disciplined anmals, Flavio Togni is destined to be the circus superstar of the '90s.
In subtle ways, Togni is - and will be - pushing the limits of animal training wider and wider.
Like his unique mix of pachyderms and palominos. There are four of each in the center ring, dancing and prancing around Togni as he softly gives the steeds and elephants their commands.
Later, Togni, joined by part of his family and several assistants, fills the arena floor with a demonstration of equine excitement - first in the center ring with six matched liberty horses, featured in high-stepping Spanish Riding School routines, then 26 dressage horses - 10 in the center ring and eight in each of the other two rings - going through their intricate maneuvers.
Togni also plays around with mixing as well as matching.
During intermission, the circus' roustabouts have raised a giant, circular cage into place in the center ring. The first piece of business when the second half of the show begins is to have Togni inside the cage - with a 4,000-pound white rhinoceros and a sleek, black panther.
Black and white. Cumbersome and lithe. Awkward vs. graceful.
And if, for one moment, Thor (the rhino), got distracted or upset, it could be like mixing oil and water. But Togni has Thor eating out of the palm of his hand (literally), and while rhinos aren't built for doing fancy tricks, it is something of a major accomplishment just to get it to run round the ring, with the panther perched atop a platform on top of Thor's back.
Toward the end of the 21/2-hour show, Togni is yet again in the spotlight (he makes four separate appearances during the show), this time with 15 elephants in a spectacular performance. (Did you know that most elephants are trained to parade around the arena in a clockwise direction - and that getting them to shift into a counter-clockwise mode is difficult? It may be - but it's a piece of cake for Togni.) While this edition of Kenneth Feld's spectacle is built around Togni's award-winning acts, it doesn't stop there.
The heart-stopping Quiros and their high-wire expertise; the Guttys and the Morales, soaring gracefully through the air on the flying trapeze; the Winns, who do things with motorcycles that I'm sure neither Harley nor Davidson ever considered; the Skymasters and their swaypole artistry; the mother-daughter Ayalas and their hair-raising (and hair-stretching) routines; Luis and Marcia Palacio and their mix of lions, tigers, leopards and hyenas, and the spectacular Los Gauchos Latinos.
And we can't forget those wonderful Ringling clowns. They make it look as easy as pratfalling off a log.
Keeping the entire show's continuity and pacing in line is the circus band, directed by Phil Campbell and augmented by members of Eugene Jelesnik's Salt Lake Philharmonic Orchestra.