Music plays part in UniverSoul’s universal appeal

A ring roundup

Three circuses are now or soon will be appearing in metro Atlanta. Here’s a look at when and where they’ll be:

UniverSoul Circus: “The U & US Tour”

Today through March 3 in Turner Field’s green parking lot. $16 to $32. 1-800-745-3000.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents “Dragons”

Wednesday through Feb. 18 at Philips Arena and Feb. 21 to March 3 at Gwinnett Arena. Philips: $14-$130. Gwinnett: $25-$130. 1-800-745-3000,

Big Apple Circus presents “Legendarium”

It opened Feb. 1 and runs through Monday under the big top in Parking Lot A of the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park (enter via West Gate at 1775 Founders Parkway, off Old Roswell Road, Alpharetta). Tickets, $20-$60, available at the circus box office, located in front of the big top (no service charge) or via 1-888-541-3750, More info: 1-800-922-3772.

With three circuses in town this weekend, fans of silly antics and feats of derring-do have plenty of options. Once you get past the floppy shoes, glittery outfits and animal acts, they’re all pretty much the same, right?

Wrong, says Hank Ernest, a spokesman for UniverSoul Circus.

“As our founder and president Cedric Walker likes to point out, we pride ourselves in bringing the audience into the show,” he said. “It’s a highly interactive combination of circus arts, theater and music that spans genres including pop, classic R&B, Latin, hip-hop, jazz and gospel.”

While music is an integral part of any circus, it’s the soul of UniverSoul.

New acts such as the Vincent Clark Singers and Heaven the Human Beat Box are proof.

Raised in the north Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Heaven, also known as Steven Cantor, is a recent Georgia State University graduate.

“I’ve performed all over the world,” he said, “but I’m proud to be back home.”

Realizing at an early age that he had a rare talent for turning his body into a sound effects machine, Heaven said he still had to hone the skill.

“I researched people like Kenny Muhammad, The Human Orchestra, and got involved with the beat-box community.”

Although there’s no course called Beat Box 101, Heaven got to know people with similar talents through online programs similar to chat rooms. They shared techniques and tricks of the trade. Then Heaven worked on stage presence and audience participation to put together a show.

“I walk around and get the audience involved,” he said. “The idea is to connect with everyone.”

He accompanies contemporary songs and familiar TV theme music such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and he provides sound effects for tricks such as pulling a rubber ball out of a child’s ear.

“Just the nature of what I do tends to attract attention,” Heaven said. “I love what I do, and my show reflects that. It doesn’t feel like work. It’s more like hanging out with friends.”

And that’s the feeling the circus wants everyone to walk away with.

“We like to think of the audience as family,” Ernest said. “The show has one ring, so everything is up close and personal. You’ll see the sweat on the performer’s brow and feel their excitement. The audience really becomes a part of the show.”

Although the circus started 19 years ago in the parking lot of the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, those who may think they’ve seen it before could be in for a surprise. While it has the familiar wow factor, UniverSoul Circus touts itself as an evolution.

“We keep renewing every show,” Ernest said. “Mr. Walker finds unusual acts from all over the world to create a unique mix.”

Instead of the traditional ringmaster setup, UniverSoul has a comedy troupe introduce performers and provide entertainment while the big spectacular acts set up.

Atlanta’s own Reggie Jackson, also know as Regina Blaylock, is among the comedians. She’s spent the past six years doing stand-up comedy as well as acting, and this is her second year with UniverSoul. Besides entertaining, she and her fellow comedians have to keep things moving.

“We’re a very energetic part of the show,” she said. “We have no problem getting people to participate because they’re having so much fun.”

Although she probably never envisioned herself as part of a circus, her adventurous spirit allowed her to keep her options open.

“Life is a big journey,” she said. “This is a great chapter in it.”

Ernest encourages circus goers to abandon expectations and let the experience take over.

“You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as well as dancing in the aisles,” Ernest said. “The performers run the gamut from graceful and mesmerizing to energetic and fun-filled. UniverSoul really has something for everyone.”

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