July 20, 2006


 Cirque du Soleil's "Corteo"

There's a big blue and yellow tent in parking lot K behind the United Center. And that means there's a little magic in the air because after three years Cirque du Soleil is back in Chicago.

"Corteo," performed by the touring company, runs through Aug. 27 and is wonderful, breathtaking and amazing. It's a bit of old-fashioned magic, music, artistry, acrobats and storytelling, combined for a show that takes you to another world for 120 minutes-plus a 30-minute intermission.  

Yes, these are circus acts. And there are acrobats and tumblers and jugglers and people with hoops and even little people. But this is not a circus, it is an orchestrated experience, choreographed so that at every moment there is something interesting happening. And all to be true to the theme: A procession.

"Corteo" is Italian for cortege, which literally means a funeral procession. And this story-but it's not really told as a story-opens as our central storyteller and guide on this journey, an Italian clown in a circus of a bygone era, is lying in bed ill. He imagines his own funeral procession and that is the rest of the show. We float between fantasy and reality, heaven and Earth, in a world of angels and acrobats. Although this sounds somewhat morbid, it is anything but. It is fun and funny as well as heart warming.

And even though things are going on all the time, it is not overwhelming. Rather, it is absorbing. We had two 14-year-old boys with us, and yes, there were moments where they were not following the storyline and a bit confused about what was happening. Yet, they said the slight confusion didn't detract from the wonderment.

The stage is in the round and it feels as though everything is being played to your side of the audience. All of it is accompanied by original songs and live music. Cirque du Soleil's shows highlight artistry and acrobatics of circus eras gone by-with no animal acts. There is a cast of more than 57 artists from 14 countries. 

All the details are considered from every angle--from costumes to props to lighting to sound. Everything is done well, giving the show a pace and balance that keeps you engaged throughout. It's hard to find enough superlatives to describe the show.   The price and length of the show do not make it a good fit for very little ones. I think it's best for ages 7 and up. It is a wonderful extended family evening that is good for all three generations-grandparent, parent and child. If you've never seen Cirque du Soleil, the price seems steep; adult tickets range from $50 to $85, and kid tickets $35 to $59.50 for ages 2-12 and $45 to $76.50 for seniors and 13 and up. (You can spend more for the VIP experience.) But if you've been to one show, chances are you'll know it's worth it. 

For tickets, call (800) 678-5440 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com. Susy Schultz

 Mercury Chicago's Skyline Canine Cruise

Kids and dogs are meant for one another.  Just add water, the Chicago skyline and it doesn't get much better. My two boys and my sweet puppy, Cassie, (OK, she's closer to age 8 than puppyhood) had a wonderful 90 minutes of sailing on the Mercury Chicago's Skyline Canine Cruise, which takes off at 10 a.m. every Sunday through Sept. 24. Yes, there are a few inequities here between the species. 1 All the dogs are leashed. The people are not. 2 All the dogs get biscuits-in our case-two rounds. The people do not. 3 All the dogs get to drink from a communal dish of iced water. The people do not. Instead, we got to drink in the magnificent skyline on a beautiful sunny day. Still, we, the people, spent more time hearing about the city's classic buildings instead of sniffing our neighbors. We also got to enjoy the humorous narrative of our deck hand, actor Scott Duignam-maybe you saw him in the "Road to Perdition?" While the dogs really heard nothing but Maxine, a vocal yellow Labrador with a smart looking scarf. (OK, we all heard Maxine but it didn't bother any of the dog lovers on board.) The bottom line is simple: This is a special way to see the beauty of the city with your pet and your children. It was a nice change to be able to take the dog somewhere rather than to have to pull away from the house and look at those forlorn eyes peeking out through the curtain.

"It was a perfect day for us," said Lee Ann Kuhn of Mount Prospect, who was there with her son, Kevin, and their friend, Spooky. "It had all the things we love. We love being with the dog. We love being with friends and being together and we love being on the water." Kuhn said she would take the cruise again but bring her extended family next time. The literature on this claims that more than 400 dogs enjoyed the cruise last year, that's a lot of puppy power. Please make sure your dog is the social type. No reservations are taken. So, best to stop by the ticket window early, at 8:30 a.m., buy your tickets for the cruise and then take a walk north along the lovely river front. Tickets are sold where you board the boat, underneath the Michigan Avenue Bridge on the southeast corner of the lower level, just below the Hyatt Regency Chicago. It's $18 for adults, $8 for children under age 12 and $5 for the doggie dear. For information, call (312) 332-1353 or visit www.MercurySkylineCruiseline.com. Susy Schultz

Kids Eat Chicago

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