Originally created 09/10/04

'Slava's Snowshow' a near perfect storm



NEW YORK -- After playing to audiences in more than 80 cities around the world, "Slava's Snowshow" is taking off-Broadway's Union Square Theatre by storm.

The widely celebrated spectacle, created and acted by Russian clown extraordinaire Slava Polunin, began an open-ended run Wednesday. And if New York is lucky, the show will linger a good, long while before blowing through.

Polunin, a venerated master of his craft, is joined by a small ensemble of supporting clowns in this nonverbal and highly visual blend of traditional mime and experimental theater. The show has no continuous narrative, but builds steadily on a series of simple sketches and culminates in an astounding simulation of a snowstorm, filling the theater in a display unlike anything one might expect to see at a stage performance.

The unique visual effects used throughout the show are achieved with lavish lighting and an abundance of smoke, bubbles, sparkles, confetti and levitating spheres. But for all its overblown gimmickry, the staging is sophisticated and its devices effective.

"Slava's" sound design is as inspired and unique as its visuals - and the two complement each other well. Recorded selections range from classical music to the melodies of Antonio Carlos Jobim and are dabbed with dark, percussive electronica and brooding baritone saxophone lines.

As interesting as this show is to the eyes and ears, its most appealing quality is the obvious and ample skill of Slava (as he is known) and his cohorts in the art of clowning. The clowns project the innocent curiosity of a child, creating and suspending a world where everything is new and anything is possible.

Slava, an alumnus of Cirque du Soleil, explores these possibilities deliberately and delectably in the style of Charlie Chaplin, savoring each simple motion, expression and pause as if it were his favorite flavor of ice cream.

The show has all the elements to captivate theatergoers of any age, though its tempestuous climax might be a little harsh on anyone particularly sensitive to loud noise or bright light.

The height of the snowstorm, which is fittingly accompanied by Carl Orff's intensely disquieting "Carmina Burana," is a pretty fierce onslaught against the senses for a span of about 30 seconds, especially for anyone sitting close to the stage.

But at a recent performance, in the blissful calm that followed the storm, it was hard to find a single adult or child who seemed less than ecstatic. Most were reluctant to leave the strangely utopian scene, basking with the approachable clowns long after the final bows.