I last saw Barnum in 1981 at the London Palladium with Michael Crawford. Few would forget the dramatic finale of seeing him slide down from the rafters on to the stage. That production ran for 655 performances.
Here we had a revival of Cameron Mackintosh’s Barnum after 40 years. Despite the lack of the razmataz of Crawford’s exploits this show still has a real ‘feel good’ factor and the wit, energy, appealing songs and amazing circus feats of the original. What better venue for this production than the wonderful theatre tent Chichester has created?
Mark Bramble’s account of Barnum’s life, with lyrics by Michael Stewart and music by Cy Coleman, sprang into action, with audience participation from the first number when the stage became alive with dramatic lighting, ropes and trapeze artists.
The songs such as ‘There is a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute’ introduced us to the lengths Barnum would go to to fool the public with his enterprises from Joice Heth who is supposed to be 160 years old and George Washington’s nanny to Tom Thumb the smallest man in the world, and the song ‘Bigger isn’t Better’.
‘The Colours of My Life’ could have been described as a theme tune in that it brought into focus the times when Barnum was about to start a new venture, be it creating a new side show, setting up museum or standing for mayor!
Christopher Fitzgerald played the entrepreneurial Barnum brilliantly including the dramatic tightrope walk and in the finale whizzing on to the stage on a the top of the big top.
Tasmin Carroll as his wife provided a touching contrast to the irrepressible Barnum, great interaction between the pair with a lucky coin to help things along. In some respects the show was partly a touching love story which by the interval had the intervention of a Miss Jenny Lind, played by Anna O’Bryan with a wonderful singing voice and good looks, to challenge it.
The creative choreography was brilliant giving the dancers wonderful opportunities to light up the stage!
The orchestra under the musical director Adam Rowe were placed high up at the back of the stage above most of the action which added to the spectacle, as did the occasions when some of musicians came down and played alongside the audience.
The intriguing set design included a revolving spiral staircase that added to the spectacle.
Some of the people in the group I went with thought the first act was a bit slow but I would forgive this show anything for it’s sheer vitality.
I was lucky to get a last minute cancellation on a trip organised by Ovingdean Arts Club which included transport there and back. Well done to the organisers and many thanks for the ‘treats’ supplied on both journeys. A big thank you!