When one pays over a hundred dollars for front row seats to a Cirque du Soleil show, they expect to be given a top-notch view of the entertainment giant's trademark sets, stunts and costuming. What one doesn't expect is that sitting near the stage also means that they'll be doused with their own bucket of overpriced popcorn and then peed on by a fully-grown man dressed in a dog costume -- all before the first curtain is raised.
Kooza tells the story of the Innocent, a melancholic clown who finds himself in the throes of a wild and zany circus after unwittingly setting free the ringleader. Joined by a cast of colourful characters, he struggles with identity and fear against a dazzling backdrop of side-splitting comedy routines and emotional performances that stun the senses and push the limits of the human body.
True to the show's comedic nature -- it was directed by an ex-clown -- the tone is kept light-hearted and jovial. The circus's idiotic King and his bumbling jesters take center stage, often stealing the spotlight from the Innocent with their dirty jokes, gaudy slapstick and zing-worthy one liners. When the mood does darken, however, the transition is flawless -- excitable clowns dry humping stunned audience members are seamlessly followed by elegant trapeze work and a seemingly spineless pair of contortionists.
Judging by the intensity of the audiences' gasps alone, the evening's most spectacular stunt was the Wheel of Death, in which two caped performers defy gravity in what can only be described as an eighty-foot tall set of rapidly spinning hamster wheels from hell. The exploit was enhanced all the more by a live drummer, who got hearts racing with an impressive hard rock set that exploded with the climax of the feat.
While lacking the sophistication of many of the other shows from the Quebec-based company's wide repertoire of contemporary extravaganzas, Kooza is no less captivating than its classier counterparts. A nod to the traditional circus from which Cirque originated, it mixes classic clowning with avant-garde acrobatics, achieving a perfect balance between the bold and the brash in the end.
Tickets to the show do not come cheap -- they're typically priced $60-$125 a pop -- but the performance lasts a good two hours with a half-hour intermission. Every seat in the big top offers an excellent view of the stage.