COLUMBIA — “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome to the Joey Kelly Circus,” announced ring mistress Lindy Kelly as the lights dimmed low.
More than 100 people, munching on free popcorn and peanuts, filled The Blue Note on Sunday to watch the Joey Kelly Circus’ Clown Alley, composed of Joey and his family.
Joey took center stage, clowning around and juggling. The audience watched as he tested his balance on a rola bola (a wooden plank balanced on a cylinder) while snaking his body through a hula hoop.
The audience oohed and aahed when Joey showed them an empty box and pulled out a rose and scarves with ease.
Volunteers from the audience were asked to assist in magic tricks during the performance. Some were a little scared.
Attending her first circus, 10 year-old Nora Peckham volunteered to go on stage for the death-defying sword-through-the-neck act.
“I felt it a tiny bit,” Peckham said. “But I didn’t expect it to go through my throat.”
Joey’s son, Nathan, 13, performed tricks on the diabolo (a circus tool composed of a spool tossed on a string) and amazed the audience by magically linking and unlinking silver rings.
“My favorite part was seeing the linking rings act,” Liz Schmidt of Columbia said. “I was looking forward to this after a friend invited me, and it was just great.”
The Academy Award winning 1952 film, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” featuring famous clown Emmett Kelly, who is Joey’s grandfather, was shown after the performance. Emmett Kelly spent his youth in Houston, Mo., and developed the lovable sad clown, “Weary Willie,” during the Great Depression.
The circus came to Columbia as part of the One Read program. Prior to their performance, the Kellys were featured at Columbia Public Library. Lindy read the children’s book, “Emmett Kelly in Willie the Clown,” by Helen Wing.
In association with the Daniel Boone Regional Library’s One Read program, Sara Gruen, author of “Water for Elephants” will be in Columbia from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday for a book signing at Columbia Public Library. She will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Columbia College.