From Soaps to the Circus

The Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus opens in Houston this weekend, and a TV and movie actor with a lot of ties to Houston is the ringmaster of the Greatest Show on Earth. He's veteran actor Chuck Wagner, and Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell talked with him.

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Chuck Wagner has done just about everything. He was the computerized TV superhero Automan in the 80s, he's done soap operas and movies, but he's best known for his work in Broadway musicals in New York and on tour, regional theater everywhere, including Houston. Now he's run away and joined the circus. He says he's proud to be part of such a great tradition.

"We do a lot of shows, and it's most of the year. We barely have any time off at all. And we live on the circus train and we go from city to city. You know there's such great history of the circus that it's a real honor to be involved. I'm only the 35th ringmaster in the history of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus."

Wagner is a familiar face in Houston theater circles, especially at the Alley Theatre and Theater Under the Stars.

"First time I ever came to Houston was in 1990, as Lancelot to Robert Goulet's King Arthur. And then that very next summer, at the Alley Theater, a college friend of mine, Frank Wildhorn, launched his now famous musical Jekyll and Hyde, and I was the original Dr. Jekyll."

When Wagner created the role of Svengali in Houston in 1991, his pregnant wife came along, and his daughter was born in a Houston hospital on opening night. He says being a circus ringmaster is a little awe inspiring. For years he's played to theater audiences numbering in the hundreds to a thousand or so. He says an average circus audience can be more than 10,000, but he loves it. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.