The return of the Big Apple Circus is a sure sign of spring. And real-life wonder women take the reins of the 41st season show, playing under the iconic Big Top on April 4-May 5 in a new location -- the easily accessible Northshore Mall, 210 Andover St., Peabody.
Circus pro Stephanie Monseu is this year's ringmaster -- or ringmistress, as she likes being called.
"I'm the lady ringmistress," she said last week by phone from Virginia. "I'm not the first in the Big Apple's history -- I'm the fourth."
But she is likely the most articulate, as she shares circus stories and the reasons people still flock to the circus in this day of high-tech everything and circus boycotts.
"People need to experience wonder in their lives in a communal setting. The circus does that -- it's magical to see humans pushing themselves to the limit in these amazing ways," she said.
She joined the circus a quarter-century ago when she broke her arm in a rollerblading accident and had to give up her jewelry-making career.
"It was a lucky break, since I met Keith Nelson, who had juggled in college. He taught me, and that's how it started," she said.
Monseu also learned to swallow fire, walk on stilts and throw knives with precision. And she and Nelson founded the Bindlestiff Family Circus in 1995. It's still going strong, and she handles administrative duties while touring with Big Apple.
"We support emerging circus artists and world-quality circus acts," she said.
So, too, does the Big Apple, and she's thrilled to be the gateway between the audience and the many dynamic acts in the ring this year.
"We have some wonderful acts, a great number led by female performers," Monseu said.
Among them are Jenny Vidbel, whose animal act is a perennial favorite; the Desire of Flight, a daring aerial straps act that Monseu calls "our jaw-dropper"; and Virginia Tuells, dubbed the "strongest mom in the world," who lifts her husband in their Duo Fusion acrobatic act.
New this year is the Mirror Room VIP experience leading into the Big Top tent with craft circus treats and entertainment for all ages.
"It's great to be a part of it, and I love being this year's ring mistress," Monseu said.
Nancye Tuttle's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the wings
HANOVER HIGHLIGHTS: "On Your Feet!," the music- and dance-filled bio-musical about Emilio and Gloria Estefan, is on stage at Worcester's Hanover Theatre, March 27-31. Praised as a "ferociously fun, feel-good musical," It traces the couple's rise to fame, from humble beginnings in Cuba to their arrival in America. They became a crossover sensation at the top of the pop-music world, but just when they thought they had it all, they almost lost everything. Tickets $45-$80 at 877-571-7469 or www.thehanovertheatre.org.
MUNCH A BUNCH: Eric Carle's beloved kids' book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," turns 50 this year. The timeless classic makes its way off the page and onto the stage in "The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show," on stage at Worcester's Hanover Theatre for shows Thursday, April 4, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Created by Jonathan Rockefeller, the show features a menagerie of 75 lovable puppets who faithfully adapt four of Carle's stories -- "Brown Bear, Brown Bear," "10 Little Rubber Ducks." "The Very Lonely Firefly" and, of course, "Caterpillar." Tickets $19-$29 at 877-571-7469 or www.thehanovertheatre.org.
WATER WOES: Lowell Film Collaborative presents "Flint Rising," a special film and speaking program on the Flint, Mich., water crisis, on Tuesday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m., at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, 246 Market St. Entering its fifth year, the Flint water crisis has exposed more than 100,000 residents to elevated levels of lead due to insufficient treatment of the water supply. Gina Luster, co-founder of the Flint Rising Coalition, will share information about the ongoing crisis. Free and open to all.
APRIL AT LMA: Lowell Memorial Auditorium has a busy April lineup. Experience Hendrix, a celebration of the late rocker Jimi Hendrix's music, plays Thursday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. (see story on Page W10); Stomp, the percussion-filled dance extravaganza, is Wednesday and Thursday, April 10-11, at 7:30 p.m.; "The Price is Right Live," an interactive stage version of the popular TV game show, arrives Thursday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, April 20, 7:30 p.m., the Saab Center for Portuguese Studies at UMass Lowell presents Sounds of Portugal: An Evening of Fado Music with Mariza, an internationally known performer from Portugal. For ticket info, visit www.lowellauditorium.com.
OGUNQUIT SEASON: The Ogunquit Playhouse opens its 87th season in coastal Maine with a return of "Jersey Boys," last season's mega-hit, May 15-June 15. Other announced shows include the quintessential tap-dancing extravaganza "42nd Street," June 19-July 13, and the iconic jazz musical "Cabaret," July 17-Aug. 10. And, for the first time in many years, the Playhouse will present a play -- Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig, playing Aug. 14-31. Closing out the season are two soon-to-be-announced musicals. Multishow subscriptions and individual tickets are on sale now at 207-646-5511 or www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.