Phineas Taylor Barnum dreams big, refusing to let anything or anyone get in the way of him achieving his ambitions. He builds a museum to house his collection of curious exhibits and when this burns down he finds more attractions including General Tom Thumb and Jumbo the Elephant. But his head appears to be turned by Jenny Lind the opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale and he goes on tour with her, as her Manager. His love for his wife Charity brings him home though and following a stint as Mayor, a failed attempt to run for the Presidency and Charity’s sudden death, he eventually accepts an offer from Bailey to join the circus and the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus is born.
On entering the Marven Centre you could be forgiven for thinking you had arrived at the circus. The set, designed by Nic Marchant looked fabulous with the stage dressed with red and gold drapes, billboards either side of the proscenium arch displaying posters of the period and the band seated high at the back of the stage. A juggler outside the entrance to the venue as the audience arrived and circus folk on stage honing their skills added to the authenticity.
Alan Wilson gave a terrific performance as P.T. Barnum. Confident and polished acting and singing, he really lived the part. Alessia Maiorana was delightful as Charity Barnum showing all the emotion required of the part. Their duets were beautifully sung.
Under the direction of Adam Bonner all the principals gave strong performances, so it is difficult to pick out just a few to mention here. Ringmaster/Bailey were very well played by Sam Roberts and Jess Hicks made a perfect Jenny Lind, her lovely soprano voice so right for the role. Well done also to Persie Bell as the Blues Singer, another lovely singing voice. More good performances from Jasmine Whitmore as Joice Heath, playing the piano and billed by Barnum as the oldest woman in the world and Jonah Perry known as General Tom Thumb due to his lack of stature. These two characters were said to have been exhibited by Barnum for the amusement of the general public. Thank goodness things have changed!
The Circus Folk were great and the “One Brick at a Time” scene was just amazing. Acrobats, clowns, jugglers, a unicyclist and all the other circus skills which were learned especially for the show, indicate the scale of commitment of these young adults and those who give of their time to produce shows of such a high standard.
The raising of the Big Top by way of red and yellow ribbons over the audience for “Join the Circus” was ingenious and executed without a hitch.
Under MD Paul Garner’s expert direction the cast produced some great solos and chorus numbers. The band was terrific and the balance between the singing and accompaniment was just right. The costumes were very good as was the make-up, especially the clowns’ faces.
The lighting throughout was excellent and the slick scene changes ensured there was never a lull in the pace.
It was obvious that all the cast were thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage as were we in the audience. Congratulations to everyone involved. This was an excellent production and I was singing “Come Follow the Band” on the way home.