Barnum, 4****, London

Music by Cy Colman, lyrics by Michael Stewart, book by Mark Bramble.

The Menier Chocolate Factory 53 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU to 3 March 2018.
Tues-Sat 8pm.Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7378 1773
Review: William Russell 6 December.

A razzle, dazzle of a show with boundless energy

Cy Colman’s 1980 Broadway musical is not one of his best and not one of the great American musicals, but it has a good score and director Gordon Greenberg has thrown everything at it except the legendary kitchen sink. The theatre has been transformed into a circus tent with a ring in the centre which revolves and the ensemble perform what look like death defying feats in this sketchy account of the life of the man said to be the greatest showman on earth.

As so often the book is the problem, but although he did many things P.T. Barnum is not really all that interesting and what he is best remember for – a circus owner with James A Bailey is only revealed at the end. That partnership gave birth to the famous line about it being “a Barnum and Bailey world”.

This is an evening of countless pleasures. There is that ensemble, there is the glorious Laura Pitt-Pulford as Mrs Barnum, a woman of good sense and business acumen, in fine voice, Celinde Schoenmaker screaming fit to bust as the operatic soprano Barnum launches in the United States as the Swedish Nightingale, and Harry Francis dancing up a storm as Tom Thumb, another of Barnum’s protégés, in Bigger Isn’t Better, a highlight of Act One.

That leaves the star of the show, Marcus Brigstocke who plays Barnum. He has charm, he can sing well enough, and when he falls of the famous tightrope he is required to walk at the end of Act One he does so with aplomb – three times. He may not be quite the dazzling centre of it all, as legend has it Michael Crawford was when the show was done in London in 1981, or Jim Dale, who created it in New York, but the audience liked him and that counts for a lot.

As a winter pick-me-up Greenberg’s production could not be bettered. There are balloons, and jugglers, hoola hoops and hucksters, fire eaters and pole dancers, an elephant, a marching band, confetti exploding all over the place, the oldest woman on earth, Tom Thumb strutting his stuff, as well as that predatory Nightingale warbling in glass shattering tones. What it lacks in dramatic substance, and it is after all only a musical, the production more than makes up for in razzle, dazzle and sheer high spirits.

Barnum: Marcus Brigstocke.
Chairy: Laura Pitt-Pulford.
Ringmaster: Dominic Owen.
Jenny Lind: Celine Schoenmaker.
Joice Heth: Tupele Borgu.
Tom Thumb: Harry Francis.
Miss Amy Becher: Bethany Huckle.
Chester Lyman: Lucie-Mae Sumner.
Amos Scudder: Danny Collins.
Mr Sherwood Stratton: Ainsley Hall Ricketts.
Julius Goldschmidt: Philip Marriott.
Concertmaster: Rosiue Fletcher.
Wilton: Ainsley Hall Ricketts.
Humbert Morrissey: Danny Collins.
Blues Singer: TupeleBorgu.
Edgar Templeton: Eamon Cox.
James A Bailet: Dominic Owen.
Ensemble: Danny Collins, Eamonn Cix, SAismley Hall Ricketts, Courtney Hows, Kelsey Jamieson, Preston, Jamieson, Philip Marriott, Meghane Poulet, Lucie-Mae Sumner, Owen Winship.

Director: Gordon Greenberg.
Choreographer: Rebecca Howell.
Set & Costume Design: Pail Farnsworth.
Circus Direction: Scott Maidment.
Lighting Design: Philip Gladwell.
Sound Design: Gregory Clarke.
Orchestration: Chris Walker.
Musical Director. Alex Parker.

2017-12-07 15:27:18

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