The circus is in town, and it’s so 19th century. Mr. Swindle’s Traveling Peculiarium, a traveling circus and vaudeville extravaganza running at Mizner Park Amphitheater Thursday to Sunday, will bring all manner of shady characters, soaring trapeze artists and impossibly jointed contortionists to audiences eager for a nostalgic change of pace in their entertainment diets.
“We were always inspired by the old-fashioned shows, and we wanted to go back to what made those shows great,” says Allison Blei, co-owner of Salto Entertainment, which produces the event. “Our inspiration was P.T. Barnum. He was a bit of a character we looked up to in the way he was able to show things, and it’s always with a funny flavor. It’s not just about a swindle; it’s more about having fun with it.”
Like Barnum’s pioneering Museum, Menagerie & Circus—which would evolve into the world-famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—Blei’s venture is a smorgasbord chock-full of exceptional big-top talent, but with less of a freak-show ambience and more of a cheeky, postmodern sensibility. Its characters include co-host Dr. Elixir, a maker of cure-all patent medicines—all of them being essentially booze—his gold-digging wife Mrs. Sin and their incompetent nephews, Max and Theo. “They are basically there not based on skill but pure nepotism; and in the end they win you over,” Blei says.
Featured acts that will “step right up” on the Mizner stage include Dark Romance, a husband-and-wife duo, each of them shooting crossbows at the other; Suspended Passion, a dual trapeze act; The Contorted, featuring the event’s premier “jointless wonder”; and the Gravitational Wheel, in which a performer will balance upon a giant circus wheel.
As for the name atop the marquee, he’s the proverbial man behind the curtain. “Mr. Swindle is the proprietor. He is the person you can’t get to,” Blei says. “He’ll be referred to a lot, but you’ll never get too close to him, or get a good look at him.”
It will all go down inside a giant tent imported from Italy, transforming the amphitheater into a kind of venue inside a venue. “The energy that’s created in that tent is very powerful,” Blei says. “When you’re in an arena, you don’t have this kind of connection, and this kind of energy. But when you’re this close, there’s something magical being created inside the tents.”
Some of that magic arrives in the form of audience interaction. The Drink-Ory Garden, a beer garden inside the tent offering brews, wine, cocktails and chef-curated food throughout the event, will open an hour before each performance; during this time, the cast, fully in character, will mingle with spectators. During the show, they’ll run offstage into the aisles to create a more immersive evening.
“It’s really about the experience,” Blei says. “We’re trying to provide laughter, thrills, excitement, suspense—we’re bringing our audience on a roller coaster ride. We like to say we take this journey together, and it’s a wonderful ride.”
Mr. Swindle’s Traveling Peculiarium and Drink-Ory Garden runs 7 p.m. Thursday and 4 and 7 p.m. Friday to Sunday at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $40-$60. Visit mrswindles.com.