When it comes to the French-Canadian “Cirque du Soleil” franchise, there are two groups of people: those who drool and give an imprimatur to everything that the ultra chic “Cirque” does, and those who wonder what all the fuss is about, who don’t “get it,” as a “Cirque” lover likes to say. Having seen a couple of early shows, I definitely was a major and rather bored detractor early on, but the last “Cirque” show, “Corteo,” was so compelling a concept that I got hooked. I wondered if “Cirque,” or me, or both, had changed coming into “Kooza,” the latest “Cirque” show. Well, a bit of both. The early “Cirque” shows done here were done in theaters, and “Cirque” loses far too much in that environment. The tent idea really works, and amazingly, it is a tent more comfortable and climate-controlled than most theaters but more to the point, it showcases the acts in spectacular and sharp relief where no one is ever far away from the proceedings. This not only greatly enhances audience involvement—brought to a new level with “Kooza” where members actually become part of the show in some hysterically clever ways—but also means that the performers and the acts themselves are shown to their spatial and three-dimensional advantage. The constant Eurocentric perspective of earlier shows has given way to a looser, often more improvised “jazzy” quality, including the music itself, which has gone from trendy Europop to live cutting-edge jazz-rock that is allowed to dynamically explode during the climax of acts. But most importantly, “Kooza” is continuing the tradition of setting the “Cirque” acts against some sort of overall dramaturgy, which is a healthy development even if at nearly three hours, this show could be more tightly focused a la “Corteo,” which was shorter, but more breathtaking. And while popcorn is a great traditional American circus treat, where’s the cotton candy? (Dennis Polkow)
United Center Parking Lot K, 1901 Madison (at Damen), (800)678-5440. $55-$125. Through August 24.