The current Moonbox Production of the delightful musical "Barnum" is timely on several levels. There is a poignancy to the fact that at the end of the musical, P.T. Barnum partners with James A. Bailey to create "The Greatest Show on Earth." The circus that still bears the names of these two men, as well as that of the Ringling Brothers, is folding up its tent. Its time has come and gone, replaced by other forms of family entertainment. Barnum began his career as a showman and flimflam artist during an era of populism in America that saw the election of political outsider Andrew Jackson. So there is a political relevancy to this story of the impresario who turned alternative facts and fake news into the foundation for an entertainment empire. We are tasting our own updated version of populism run amok.
Barnum was a self-proclaimed "Prince of Humbug," a master of the hoax of the first water. He knew the mind and the heart of the American people in the middle of the 19th century, and he made himself rich on their nickels, dimes, and quarters. The artists behind this musical biography have made this version of Mr. Barnum accessible, human, and almost loveable. The music of Cy Coleman, Lyrics of Michael Stewart and Book by Mark Bramble tell of Barnum's successes and setbacks, marriage and dalliances, dreams and disappointments. Director/Choreographer Rachel Bertone assembled a cast of actors who could act, sing, and dance, and then exposed them to the tutelage of circus professionals at Esh Circus Arts to teach them the rudiments of circus skills. The result is a troupe that delights in telling a compelling story, while delighting us with juggling, acrobatics, aerial displays, feats of leger de main and solid singing and dancing.
Leading this fine cast as Phineas Taylor Barnum is Todd Yard. By the end of Act Two, he has the audience eating out of his hand. He is especially effective in the songs "Out There" and "The Prince of Humbug." Shonna Cirone is equally memorable as Mrs. Charity Barnum, enduring her husband's schemes and occasional wandering off of the reservation with firmness and forgiveness. She and Mr. Yard shine in their duets "The Colors of My Life" and "I Like Your Style." As Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale who landed in the Barnum nest and warbled her way into P.T.'s heart, Jessica Kundla brings a gorgeous operatic voice that is shown to great effect in "Love Makes Such Fools Of Us All." Zaven Ovian is a perfect Ringmaster, and Carla Martinez is wonderful as Joice Heth, purported by Barnum to be 160 years of age, joyously cutting up in "Thank God I'm Old." Branson Gates stands tall as General Tom Thumb in "Bigger Isn't Better." The rest of this versatile troupe include Dan Prior, Allison Russell, Matthew Kossack, Andrea Lyons, Daniel Forest Sullivan, Joy Clark, and Alexa Wang. The Ensemble is particularly impressive in the production number "Black and White," featuring Mr. and Mrs. Barnum, and Carla Martinez as Blues Singer.
Through April 30th
There was not anyone who left the theater last evening who was not sporting a smile. So, I encourage you to "step right up and purchase your ticket." The play will run at the Calderwood Pavilion through April 30th.
Moonbox Productions Website