Review: Barnum @ WMC
The WMC is awash in old-timey circus and cheer. Barnum, which is a big show (but not the most familiar) is an all out American musical crammed with circus acts for a great evening of theatre and spectacle.
The story is based on the commercial risks and success of the great showman P. T. Barnum, who claimed to have "the Greatest Show on Earth".
This is a time when the words "sucker", "toss" and "spunk" had completely different connotations (like in the song There Is A Sucker Born Every Minute) and the world was a little "gayer" (also). With his wife Chairy, they plunge into the murky, commercial waters of show making and for the most part it is a whopping success. Even with fires, money woes and a Swedish operatic bombshell, by the name of Jenny Lind, they make it through for the joy of the circus.
This is a grand musical if ever there was one. Most can't get away with wafer thin plots and average songs, but Barnum is different. With the huge attraction of circus as a major selling point in itself, producer Cameron Mackintosh could be compared to a modern day Barnum (they both know how to make big money). If you don't care for the Barnum's story, you will most likely give in to the great songs and pristine choreography.
Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart's songs are for the most part OK. The show's two most famous numbers, Come Follow The Band and Join The Circus, are filled with so much outstanding panache and are insanely catchy that you are easily bowled over by the presentation from a fabulous ensemble and band on stage.
As P. T. Barnum, Brian Conley is in his element as the maverick producer, lapping up the role with confidence and great showmanship. His approach to the audience was to heckle and joke with us, offering a ten-dollar bill to a man in the front row, then taking it away. His gift of a rose to a lady is a prank, as she grabs the bottom half only to have an empty stem, void of petals. Linzi Hateley as Chairy is a determined and independent businesswoman and wife, with a lovely singing voice to boot.
As Jenny, Kimberly Blake is amazing in her Swenglish pronunciation and sublime voice. Mikey Jay-Heath as Tom Thumb has a great cameo and a silly song about a role that perhaps should actually be played by a dwarf. As the "160-years-old" Joice Heth, Landi Oshinowo plays old well and a smooth blues singer in the rendition of Black And White.
I urge people to roll on up the WMC for a gob-smacking evening of true musical joy.
Rating: 4 stars
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Photo Credit: Michael Le Poer Trench for BarnumMusical.com