by Julian Spivey
It’s not every day an echidna comes to your hometown, but it’s likely a good sign Jack Hanna has. The longtime director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and television personality brought his “Into the Wild Live” touring show to Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. on Friday, Oct. 27 and it was a treat for animal lovers.
Hanna is one of the most noted and popular animal conservationists in the world and has used his Emmy-winning television series “Into the Wild” and appearances on television shows such as “Late Night/Late Show with David Letterman,” “Good Morning America” and currently “Late, Late Show with James Corden” to teach viewers about the importance of our world’s beautiful animals, many of which are endangered.
Before the show started on Friday night Hanna was available at the side of the stage to sign autographs for a long line of fans, which was a nice way to begin the evening. When the show started Hanna gave a little bit of history about himself, including the fact that his father was born in Little Rock and it was his first trip back to Arkansas in many years. He said he felt a bond with the state because of its part in his family history.
“Into the Wild Live” is a mixture of Hanna, along with his talented staff of animal handlers, showing the audience a variety of animals and teaching them about them and showing clips of his television show that are important to him on a big screen above the stage.
Among the animals brought with him to the Reynolds stage on Friday night were a kangaroo, sloth, penguin and cheetah to the excitement of both the children and adults in the audience. Many of these animals are ones you can see at your local zoo, but you don’t get the expertise and terrific stories about them that comes with seeing Jack Hanna live.
Among the “best of” clips shown from the “Into the Wild” television program were Hanna and his family spending an hour with gorillas in the mountains of Africa and spending a day raising baby elephants at an elephant rehabilitation center also in Africa.
Hanna’s “Into the Wild” can still be seen syndicated on local television affiliates around the country, usually on Saturday mornings, and in 2016 the show won its fourth Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Travel and Adventure Program.
I developed a fascination with Hanna as a huge fan of David Letterman. Letterman had Hanna on his ‘Late Night’ and ‘Late Show’ programs more than 100 times during his 30-year tenure on television, making Hanna one of his most frequent guests. The two had a great report with each other with Hanna being his wacky personality and Letterman playing the curmudgeon seemingly often annoyed by Hanna’s antics and always having the perfect one-liner when something went wrong during these segments. They truly made a great pair. One of the highlights of “Into the Wild Live” on Friday night came at the end of the show when Hanna showed a blooper real from his show and times on Letterman’s show really highlighting their on-air comradery.
I’d highly recommend seeing Hanna live if you get the opportunity. His appearances can be seen on his website and he will be appearing in Tulsa, Okla. and Woodlands and Austin, Texas later this month. The only thing that would probably make his live road show better would be if he added a Q&A segment to the end. It would really make the audience feel even more a part of the show.
My only complaint about the evening has more to do with Reynolds Performance Hall than the actual show and it’s a frequent complaint with the venue – the ticket prices are almost always too high. The show did sell out, but $40 for a ticket is a little much to ask of people, especially for an event with families bringing their children.