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Curtain falls on 'Greatest Show on Earth' after 146 years

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/21/2017 By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
Ringmaster Kristen Michelle Wilson, right, hugs a member of the crew after the red unit's final performance, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in Providence, R.I. For the performers who travel with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, its demise means the end of a unique way of life for hundreds of performers and crew members. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) © The Associated Press Ringmaster Kristen Michelle Wilson, right, hugs a member of the crew after the red unit's final performance, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in Providence, R.I. For the performers who travel with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, its demise means the end of a unique way of life for hundreds of performers and crew members. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that has wowed crowds for 146 years with its "Greatest Show on Earth" is taking its final bow on Sunday.

Clarissa Williams, of West Hempstead, N.Y., poses with her daughter Nylah, 8, after seeing one of the final shows of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Saturday, May 20, 2017. Williams is a lifelong circus fan and hopes her daughter will remember the show. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush) © The Associated Press Clarissa Williams, of West Hempstead, N.Y., poses with her daughter Nylah, 8, after seeing one of the final shows of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Saturday, May 20, 2017. Williams is a lifelong circus fan and hopes her daughter will remember the show. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

The circus' last show at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, is sold out, and former circus performers will be in the audience. It's something of a reunion — or a funeral — for a production that's centered on bringing joy to the public.

Gene Goldstein, center right, and his family stop for a photo outside the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., which is hosting the final performances of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Saturday, May 20, 2017. From left are Cheryl Goldstein, Dawn Mirowitz, Gene Goldstein and Heather Greenberg. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush) © The Associated Press Gene Goldstein, center right, and his family stop for a photo outside the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., which is hosting the final performances of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Saturday, May 20, 2017. From left are Cheryl Goldstein, Dawn Mirowitz, Gene Goldstein and Heather Greenberg. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January it would close the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.

The Danguir high wire troupe performs during a show, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in Providence, R.I. Mustafa Danguir is the first in his family to perform in the circus. He was discovered doing acrobatic tricks as a child in Tangier, Morocco, and invited to circus school. His wife, Anna Lebedeva, originally from Moscow, is sixth-generation circus. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) © The Associated Press The Danguir high wire troupe performs during a show, Sunday, May 7, 2017, in Providence, R.I. Mustafa Danguir is the first in his family to perform in the circus. He was discovered doing acrobatic tricks as a child in Tangier, Morocco, and invited to circus school. His wife, Anna Lebedeva, originally from Moscow, is sixth-generation circus. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Animal rights activists had targeted the circus, saying that forcing animals to perform and transporting them around the country amounted to abuse. And in May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline.

Once a mainstay of entertainment in small towns and big cities across the country, Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island. That show was the more traditional, three-ring circus, while the one in Uniondale, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of New York City, this weekend has a narrative storyline. Called "Out of This World," it's set in futuristic outer space, with Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson narrating in his signature baritone.

It's an arena show, with an extravaganza of big cats, motorcycle stunts, clowns performing death-defying tricks, ice skaters and Mongolian contortionists — and that's just the first half. The second half includes more aerialists, hoop divers, basketball players in unicycles and an act that the circus staff calls "The Fuzzies," featuring dogs, pigs, llamas and goats.

There are mild explosions and flashing lights. A sensory overload, but one that captivates the little ones — as does the giant, branded boxes of popcorn and the snow cones in big cat mugs.

In the end, though, Feld executives said they knew the circus couldn't compete with iPhones, the internet, video games and massively branded and carefully marketed characters. Their other productions — Frozen on Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, Disney on Ice — resonate better with younger generations.

And so tonight, sometime after 9 p.m., the Greatest Show on Earth will be no more.

___

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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