- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

There is no doubt Johnathan Lee Iverson has the best and busiest view under the Big Top and the most coveted job at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
As ringmaster of the "Greatest Show on Earth," Mr. Iverson stands in the center of the pageantry. In top hat and sparkling tails, he shapes the presentation, pace and personality of each performance.
"I'm the guy who keeps the fantasy alive in the show," Mr. Iverson, 24, says.
"At no point should you see any reality; that's why the circus has survived for so long," he says.
In the real world, the upbeat ambassador of the circus holds the distinction of being the youngest and the first black ringmaster in the 130-year history of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
Since the debut of the circus on March 23 at the MCI Center in Northwest, Washington, D.C., Mr. Iverson, a classically trained tenor, has wowed Washington audiences with his voice and his engaging manner. The magic continues tonight through Sunday at the D.C. Armory in Southeast.
"We give 22 shows while we're here, with two days off. It's a harsh schedule, but it's a labor-of-love-type deal. Washington, D.C., is a big city, and a lot of people appreciate and love the circus here," Mr. Iverson says.
Making history isn't a priority for Mr. Iverson; making children of all ages smile is what he enjoys most.
"I go out to give a great show and be the best at what I do," the New York native says.
He has had plenty of practice.
Entertainment always held a certain appeal for Mr. Iverson. At 11 years of age, he auditioned and was accepted into the Boys Choir of Harlem, where he received his formal training in voice.
He graduated from New York's Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts (the "Fame" school) in 1994 and won scholarships to the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut. He graduated in 1998.
Mr. Iverson, who was trained in classical music, enjoys all genres. "I appreciate Pavarotti, Nat 'King' Cole, and I get just as excited about Marvin Gaye," Mr. Iverson says.
Mr. Iverson says he was headed to Europe for private voice lessons when he decided to audition for the "Fireside Christmas Show" in Fort Atkinson, Wis. He wanted to make some money for his trip abroad.
The show's director turned out to be Phil McKinley, Ringling Bros. director and choreographer. Mr. McKinley suggested Mr. Iverson try out for the ringmaster position.
"I was just planning to earn some extra cash to travel with I never anticipated that I would be invited to an audition for this incredible role," he says.
"It's been cool ever since. It's a classic show-business story. Right place, right time, and I met the right people," Mr. Iverson says.
Mr. Iverson performs three songs and a few short tunes in the course of a two-hour show. He's on his feet for the duration of the performance. He must remain engaging and be the consummate performer.
He credits his days with the Boys Choir of Harlem for instilling discipline that to this day serves him well as ringmaster.
Mr. Iverson tips his hat to his circus colleagues and says he hopes to elevate the status of circus performers.
"The circus is live. It dances between triumph and tragedy. Triumph is present every night, and so is tragedy. Defeating your fear is present every night. You never know," Mr. Iverson says.
"I pray before every performance because it's all live entertainment, and you don't meet many people who risk their lives every day. My goal is to lift the standards. I want circus performers to get the same respect as athletes."
Mr. Iverson says he loves his job singing and performing before thousands around the country. When he leaves the circus, he hopes to pursue a career on the silver screen.
"I really see myself going into the movies. I've always admired actors like Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. I've always enjoyed cinema, and I would like to be on the creative end of movies writing, producing and acting," Mr. Iverson says.
His first passion always will be live performances.
Mr. Iverson says he and Ringling Bros. producer Kenneth Feld were clowning around recently, and "Mr. Feld said: 'When I grow up, I want to be you; that's my fantasy.' "
Mr. Iverson responded, "When I grow up I want to be you."
To that, Mr. Iverson says with a smile, Mr. Feld said: "Only on the good days."

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