This production of “BARNUM” opened at Chichester Festival Theatre’s “Theatre in the Park” in July last year and became one of the most successful musicals in the theatre’s 51 year history, with a recordbox office attendance of almost 70,000 people.
BRIAN CONLEY AS P T BARNUM
Brian Conley who I only knew as “that bloke off the telly” has impressive credentials as a stage performer. Who knew?! Most recently he was a huge success as ‘Fagin’ in Cameron Mackintosh’s “Oliver!”, with other West End stage credits including ‘Edna Turnblad’ in “Hairspray” and ‘Caractacus Potts’ in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.
He certainly plays a convincing and likeable Barnum and to my English ear , his American accent sounds quite authentic.
LINZI HATELEY AS ‘CHAIRY’
Linzi, who plays Barnum’s wife, is an award winning actress who has starred on Broadway, in the West End, with the RSC and at the National Theatre.
The musical follows the irrepressible imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, America’s Greatest Showman. The story of his life and his marriage to Chairy reveals a couple who looked at the world from opposite sides of the spectrum, showing how she was the practical one who made Barnum’s dreams come true. The production follows the legendary showman’s life as he lit up the world with the colour, warmth and excitement of his imagination and finally teamed up with J A Bailey to create Barnum and Bailey’s Circus – the Greatest Show on Earth.
Cy Coleman’s score includes the hits Come Follow The Band, TheColours Of My Life and There Is A Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute. I wasn’t familiar with the music but loved some of the singing – particularly Kimberley Blake’s (as Jenny Lind) beautiful operatic rendition of “Love Makes such Fools of Us All”.
As we waited for the show to begin, we could hear pockets of laughter and applause coming from different areas of the theatre as individual acts performed amongst (and sometimes with the assistance of) the audience. Magical!
All three generations of us were impressed by the clever timing and acrobatic prowess displayed during the many circus skills sequences on stage.
The illusion which was created by cleverly contrasting Barnum’s diminutive “Tom Thumb” act with ‘giants’ including a monumentally large “Jumbo the elephant”.
The aerial acts were impressive and apparently fearless – from an opera singer on a high swing to performers floating gracefully from the ceiling,
The otherwise very sensible Chary’s uncharacteristic tossing of a coin to decide the couple’s fate.
Barnum’s amusing interaction with the audience
The acts popping up amongst the audience before the curtain opened were magical and my boys were delighted to have a small part in some juggling from their seats in our box! Yes, there was plenty of action to delight an eight and a ten year old throughout act one.
Their interest waned during the dialogue-heavy and more serious act two though, parts of which we sometimes found difficult to decipher, which meant that they lost track of the story line.
Once the colourful finale began, they were sitting on the edge their seats again enjoying the spectacle.
I found nothing inappropriate for children in this show and my boys were glued to parts of it like the clever circus acts, but I’d probably recommend this show for ages ten plus who might be better placed to follow the plot.
This is quite a varied show. There are songs, dialogue, acrobatics, dancing, politics, heartache and laugh out loud comedy moments.
Make sure you get to your seat punctually if you want to catch some close up circus skills and great fun audience participation before the show officially starts.
Act one dazzled us with its action packed visual delights. Act two was sadder, slower and more serious.
The show ends with a finale where there are so many clever, acrobatic feats on the stage it’s hard to know where to look.
Barnum was a marketing man who built his success by being the “harmless deceiver” of the “willingly deceived” to create the Greatest Show on Earth of his time and it’s hard not to be charmed by his cheeky “humbug”!
Surrounded by modern technology, perhaps we consider ourselves a more sophisticated audience that 150 years ago, but we’re still suckers for an illusion, aren’t we? Let’s be honest here. Even though we’re almost certain that it would be fake, how many of us would be tempted to click on the link if a YouTube notification popped up offering us the chance of seeing a video of a 160 year old woman, a tiny 24 inch man or even a real life mermaid?!