Pulse-pounding, electric, and immensely entertaining, Traces imbues jaw-dropping Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics with a current, youthful edge. This family-friendly show, now playing at Off Broadway's Union Square Theatre (in addition to a national tour that hits Hartford, Conn., Dayton, Ohio, and Costa Mesa, Calif., in the coming months) stars the one female and six male performers of the Montreal-based circus troupe 7 Fingers. The cast is impossibly charming, funny, attractive, and multi-talented to the extreme. They don't just dance and perform unbelievable tricks they write and sing love songs, play instruments, skateboard, dunk basketballs into human hoops, and tell jokes. After the show, you'll want to grab a drink with these people, whether or not they're all balancing upside down on the same bar stool.
It's difficult to name a standout because each performer has multiple show-stopping moments. Florian Zumkehr, the tortured, mysterious artist of the group, sings an emo guitar ballad mere seconds after stunning the audience with a breathtaking chair-balancing routine. Xia Zhengqi, the smallest, most agile of the bunch, makes flipping through the air look easier than blinking and also happens to have an amazing voice.
The audience favorite, though, may have been Mason Ames, a scruffy goofball who describes himself as ''clumsy,'' which he repeatedly proves that he's not. At six-foot-two and 228 pounds, he looks more like a football player than a dancer. But while he tosses and catches the other performers as if they're Nerf balls, some of the most impressive, surprising moments happen when he shows himself to be a nimble acrobat himself, whether he's jumping through tiny hoops or falling down the length of a fireman's pole, only to stop himself inches above the floor.
As the lone woman in Traces, Valérie Benoit-Charbonneau shines, alternating from shy and complicated to playful and flirtatious. You can hear the sighs from young girls and grown women as she performs a twirly dance suspended above the stage. One of the cleverest moments is a quieter one in which Benoit-Charbonneau ingeniously incorporates her love of reading with acrobatics.
Though the players keep the feel of the show loose and casual through most of it, they look like they're dressed in pajamas it's obvious that there's a world-class level of professionalism at work. A small mistake can make the entire show go awry, and the danger makes anything you see on America's Got Talent look like child's play. It might look like a basketball or a yo-yo is sure to fly right into the face of the elderly woman in the front row, but it never does. It might seem as if there's no possible way Ames can catch Benoit-Charbonneau before her head smashes against the ground, but he always does.
My only complaint is that while it's obvious 7 Fingers is trying to shape the show into a narrative, the overarching theme remains unclear. The best guess might be the passage of time there are lots of ticking clocks, and at one point, Ames randomly launches into a medley of songs featuring the word ''time.'' But most of the transitions between stunts are pretty random: The performers write Chinese calligraphy, run from the law, and go on a reality TV competition that becomes too real (think Hunger Games). But the show succeeds on the stunts themselves and the rapport among the cast. No matter what your age, Traces might be the most fun and memorable 90 minutes you have all year. A–
(Tickets: tracesusa.com or 800-982-2787)