The Greatest Show?
Reading Time: 5 minutes
“Don’t worry, guys. No one’s leaving anyone. If we just lost a circus, then we better make sure we don’t lose each other.”
Coordinated by Lianne Ohayon and produced by Inour Awad, Judy Chen, and Kitty Wang, this year’s 50th anniversary production of Junior SING! featured ringleader Zach (Berry Ongan), the first non-binary character in SING!, and their circus crew as they receive an eviction letter. Their last chance to stay alive comes when they receive a response from acclaimed critic Abernathy (Jeffrey Wan). In preparation for Abernathy’s visit, the circus performers work tirelessly to perfect their acts to meet Zach’s high standards. After the final show, the circus comes together in an emotional moment, realizing that even if they aren’t able to perform as a group, the circus spirit has bonded them as a family.
Opening with a jubilant rendition of “Raise Your Glass,” the circus springs to life and introduces all of the circus performers: fortune-teller Opal (Emily Young-Squire), puppeteer Sean (Max Hesse), escape artist Ria (Pimada Phongsuriya), circus clown Bobert (Kevin Xiao), and animal keeper Ellie (Zoe Buff). However, their happiness is short-lived when they receive a notice to submit their overdue rent payments by the end of the month or face eviction. The distraught circus members are bouncing around ideas for raising money when Opal, searching the future for potential hope, catches sight of Abernathy in her crystal ball. Zach writes the esteemed Abernathy a personal letter detailing how meaningful the circus is to them through a passionate rendition of “Wake Me Up,” a captivating performance with strong lead vocals. The crew then receives Abernathy’s response, in which he agrees to attend a private show and publish his thoughts about the circus performance. Given the fact that they only have two weeks to prepare an impressive show, Zach tells their crew to extensively train for challenging acts in order to secure a positive review.
Zach’s expectations increase along with the importance of the next performance, and they push the crew beyond their limits and will in an attempt to heighten the show’s excitement. Bobert tries to juggle bowling balls rather than bowling pins at the risk of his own safety. Sean is told to change his puppet to one that’s more sophisticated and has only a few days to develop the new character George. Ellie is criticized for not training her animals enough, even though she already overworks them. Ria is pressured to outstrip her abilities in life-threatening acts. The show explores Zach’s dynamic with Ria, and their playful banter makes for an interesting transition into their “Butter” duet, during which the two argue about their respective tireless efforts to “steal the stage” while junior hip-hop dances. Despite the complaints, Zach denies the distinction between passion and overworking, instead using their own circus legacy to justify the stratospheric impact of the private performance.
The show reaches a climax when Abernathy arrives for the long-awaited Tiny Orange Circus exhibition. After a few tweaks to the set, the circus begins with an eye-catching flow performance. But just as expected, everything that can possibly go wrong does so. When Ellie brings her elephant onstage in a cameo by Ohayon, the elephant attacks her with feet and trunk, Bobert breaks character as an elephant charges, and Sean is unaccustomed to George. The exhibition comes to a disastrous end when Ria gets trapped in her barred cage and faints. Zach finally realizes the true meaning behind Ellie’s prior remark, “This isn’t just your circus. It’s all of ours.” They apologize to the crew, and in an uplifting turn of events, they create their last memorable show in the circus solely for inner-circus entertainment before the closure.
Finally, the circus members read over Abernathy’s review of their performance, and he declares the Tiny Orange Circus to be the best he has ever seen. The critic sees the family atmosphere beyond the fallout of the performance and invites others to pay a visit. Junior SING! ends with Zach and the crew singing about their collective joy at remaining open, highlighting the themes that provide the foundation for the musical: family, friendship, and community.
Throughout the musical, an endearing romance grows between Sean and Opal. From the start, viewers see the puppeteer hopelessly in love with the fortune teller and working through his insecurities with Greg, his puppet. After many fondly awkward moments, the two lovers’ connection is confirmed in their tender duet to “Hey There Delilah.” Before Abernathy’s review of the performance is released, Sean physically “falls” for Opal from a trampoline in a cheesy interaction. She extends the touching moment when she kisses him on the cheek, closing the show with a successful relationship. As the only developed romance in all the SING! performances, the corny intimacy was innocent and sweet—a relationship the audience can root for.
Aside from a few notable moments, the overall plot of Junior SING! comes across as cliché with a classic theme of “family first.” The production bears stark similarities to “The Greatest Showman,” not only with the circus theme, but also with the conflict in character development. But despite lacking general originality, several dance crews within the show are extremely remarkable. Junior modern performs a stunning routine during Ria’s solo to “You Say,” focusing on the pressure she feels to live up to Zach’s expectations. Led by Brisa Lin and Elizabeth Paperno, the dancers execute a moving piece with impressive turns, jumps, and lifts. Junior flow, as the initial act in Abernathy’s performance and also the only act that doesn’t end disastrously, puts on a dazzling show with a unique variety of lights to “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” In the final dance, junior step’s unison and choreography stand out, despite the small size of the crew. The crew’s integration into the plot seems random, as they are introduced as “people from [the] show,” but their strong performance and energy are able to overcome this issue. The dance crews’ liveliness is certainly necessary to keep the plot of the show engaging.
With that said, the Junior SING! band felt surprisingly lacking throughout. While Soph-Frosh and Senior SING! sport almost entirely live music, the circus show seems flooded with pre-recorded music. In set transitions, dance performances, and songs, the absence of live music is certainly felt. Recorded electronic music between scenes simply can’t compare to the flowing bands of Soph-Frosh and Senior SING! With such a large crew, the band is extremely underused.
Though the circus art is very impressive, with well-crafted posters specific to the abilities of each circus member and a stunning themed backdrop, the technical aspects of the show reduce its potential. Throughout the show, there aren’t many dynamic setting changes or impressive sets, especially in comparison to Senior SING!’s elaborate masquerade ballroom and props. The seniors are able to execute complex transitions quickly, while the juniors’ set is relatively immobile. Junior SING! doesn’t seize the circus theme opportunity for a captivating setting.
As a whole, the stellar individual crews are the backbone of Junior SING! amid a linear plot, making for a less-than-cohesive circus show.