Water for Elephants - Photo MurphyMade
Water for Elephants – Photo MurphyMade

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Broadway’s new musical “Water for Elephants” is great, exuberant family fun!

Adapted from Sara Gruen’s best-selling 2006 novel, “Water for Elephants” revolves around the reminiscences of elderly Jake Jankowski (Greg Edelman), who sneaks out of his dreary assisted living facility to visit a nearby traveling circus. 

Back in the 1930s Depression era, young Jacob (Grant Gustin), having almost graduated from veterinary school, hops aboard a circus train transporting the “Benzini Brother’s Most Spectacular Show on Earth.” 

When he advises Marlena (Isabelle McCalla) about her ailing white stallion Silver Star, it’s love-at-first-sight. But Marlena’s married to cruel ringmaster/owner August (Paul Alexander Nolan), so there’s bound to be trouble.

So much for melodrama. Far more impressive is the enchanting fantasy adventure that erupts when Rosie, an abused, abandoned elephant, arrives and Jacob discovers that she understands commands only when they’re spoken in Polish.

Working with a book by Rick Elise (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), folkloric-yet-forgettable songs by the seven-member collective PigPen Theatre Co, choreography by circus expert Shana Carroll & Jesse Robb, director Jessica Stone (“Kimberly Akimbo”) showcases members of the Canadian acrobatic troupe 7 Fingers whose exuberant acrobatics dazzle and delight.

Puppetry by Ray Wetmore, JR Goodman and Camille Labarre evokes the various animals cavorting around Takeshi Kata’s imaginative set. There are thrilling aerial routines on ropes with silks, hoops and snaps, along with tumbling, juggling, knife throwing and a Cyr wheel – creating a visual marvel!

Adding to the engaging Big Top effects are David Israel Reynoso’s costumes, Walter Trarbach’s sound design, Bradley King’s strobe lighting and David Bergali’s mood-setting projections. Too bad the so-called ‘clown’ interlude is decidedly clunky.

(FYI: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz starred in the 2011 movie version, streaming on Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube & Vudu.)

For ticket information: waterforelephantsthemusical.com.

Masters of the Air - Photo Apple TV+
Masters of the Air – Photo Apple TV+

From Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the same production team that gave us “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “The Pacific” (2010), comes a new, nine-part series “Masters of the Air” about the heroic World War II pilots who set the stage for D-Day.

The 8th Air Force, 100th Bomber Group – known as the “Bloody Hundredth” because of their high casualty rate – was stationed at England’s Thorpe Abbotts Base. In less than six months in 1943, 34 out of 36 crews were shot down. Their high casualty count was attributed to their orders to fly daylight missions over Nazi-occupied territory, while the British stealthily dropped their bombs at night.

Based on Donald L. Miller’s nonfiction account, narrated by airsickness-prone navigator Harry Crosby (Anthony Boyle), the series pivots around Maj. Gale “Buck” Cleven (Austin Butler) and Maj. John “Bucky” Egan (Callum Turner). 

Tasked with bringing the war to Hitler’s doorstep, they battled the German Luftwaffe in a real-life superhero story about men who gave up everything for a cause they believed in. They endured mid-air attacks, being shot down, sent to a Stalag and barely escaping certain death by trekking toward Allied territory.

“Buck and Bucky are romantics who grew up dreaming of flying planes,” notes John Orloff, who scripted the series, “That’s why they joined the Army Air Corps. But serving as soldiers in the war changed them. Their friendship deepens and matures as they do.”

The vast supporting cast includes Nate Mann as Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, Barry Keoghan as Curtis Biddick, Ncuti Gatwa as Tuskegee Airman Robert Daniels, Sawyer Spielberg (Steven’s 31-year-old son with Kate Capshaw) as Roy Claytor, and Rafferty Law (Jude’s son) as Ken Lawrenson. 

Curious about the B-17s? The gripping fight scenes were filmed in replicas, using technology known as The Volume. Three B-17s were suspended 50 ft. in the air on a gimbal inside a 360-degree stage of seamless LED-panel screens and ceiling. The actors reacted to fake explosions, crashes and other planes in real time.

Logistically, filming the series was a huge challenge with a crew of over 3,000 working on the nine episodes/. Spielberg said this has been his biggest project ever.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Masters of the Air” soars in with an exhausting, exhilarating 8 – all episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.