Troupe makes fur fly

February 18, 2006|By DON AINES


Dogs climbing ladders. Dogs on skateboards. Dogs jumping rope and doing hand stands ... er, standing on their front paws.

"In my opinion, it's the greatest dog show on the planet," emcee Doc Swan said of Johnny Peers & The Muttville Comix, a troupe of canines that has performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and bow-wowed the audience as the opening act of Friday night's Family Fun 'n' Frolics Variety Show, a benefit for the International Association of Firefighters Local 1605.

The dog show had the audience howling, as did a succession of jugglers, illusionists, acrobats and comedic talents, including Swan, who kept things moving with bits of business between acts.

"Where do you think she went?" one woman asked as illusionists Clive Allen and Tracy had the audience scratching their heads as he made her disappear and reappear and, to the naked eye, appear to be


disassembled at one point. The act demonstrated the apparent value of a magician having an extremely flexible assistant.

"This is what we call a pickup show where different acts come from all over to put on a show," Swan said before the curtain went up. Some of the acts came from quite far away indeed, such as The Harlequin Duo jugglers of Moscow and the Dimitriyev Family, also from Russia.

The stage show, produced by Bill Hall Entertainment and Events of Churchville, Pa., and Hamid Circus of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., had elements of both the big top and vaudeville.

"He was crazy. Really crazy," young Aaron Slifer said of one crowd favorite, frenetic Bizarre Balloonist John Cassidy, whose act mixed balloon animals, comedy and audience participation and who at one point climbed inside a huge red balloon for the finale of a card trick.

"I liked how he was so hyper," said Nathaniel Philp, one of the hundreds of kids in the audience.

"I do 176 different balloon animals ? 175 are poodles and one is a snake," Swan joked before the show. Cassidy, he said, holds a world record, having twisted out 429 balloon animals in one hour.

"We did the circus for about 10 years and we transitioned to the variety show two years ago," said Andy Hartman, president of Local 1605, which represents the 55 career firefighters of the Hagerstown Fire Department. Some of the proceeds will go toward funding two scholarships at Hagerstown Community College and other charities, such as the Children's Village of Washington County, where second-graders learn about fire safety, he said.

The local plans an even bigger event in May, a three-day "Bonanza Extravaganza" at Hagerstown Speedway with $750,000 in prizes. At $100 a ticket, people will have a shot at the $100,000 top prize, along with seven Chevy cars and trucks, seven Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and smaller cash prizes, Hartman said.

Swan, whose talents include fire-eating and "escapology," said he has been on the road since the day graduated high school almost 33 years ago. Like many of the performers, his is a Gypsy existence, with most of the year spent on the road.

"I plan on doing this until I'm 80 years old ... then travel around the country and entertain people," he said.

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