A Review of Barnum

Barnum-Icon_oldcreameryTheatreby Gerry Roe

Amana – Phineas T. Barnum is often credited with the quote “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute,” which he probably thought but may never have said aloud. More likely, he might have said “There’s a customer born ev’ry minute,” and Barnum was determined to entertain them. Barnum, as played by Sean McCall, is first and foremost a showman, and McCall gives us a showman who is loud, bombastic, sometimes pompous, but onstage at The Old Creamery Theatre he can sing and dance up a storm and occasionally, occasionally, give us a glimpse of the sensitivity usually hidden within the showman’s exterior.

For a relatively small stage and with a small company of actors, Barnum is a BIG show and it evokes BIG responses from the audience. There are, of course, a lot of laughs, and in the hands of this talented company the laughs are well earned. Sean McCall, the company’s artistic director, has assembled an exceptional group of actors for the show’s director, Warner Crocker, to guide deftly through the labyrinth of the rather sprawling script. The only criticism I could offer regarding the work of the playwright (Mark Bramble with lyrics by Michael Steward and music by Cy Coleman) might be that it seems to come to an end with the number “Join the Circus,” but this is followed by two additional numbers before coming to a rousing conclusion with an enthusiastic company reprise of Barnum’s first song, “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute.”

McCall’s Barnum is a joy to watch and hear, but he is contrasted with and matched by Kristen Behrendt DeGrazia, very much a woman of her time, with a proper demeanor suitable to a lady, but a lady with a beautiful voice and a strength of character evident in everything this actress does. Her strength is a match for McCall’s boisterous enthusiasm.

All members of the company can and should be proud of their various contributions with truly outstanding performances by Vigthor Zophoniasson as the Ringmaster and Bailey (the Bailey who brings about the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus); by Adelina Feldman-Schultz, whose soaring operatic voice brings to life Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale; by Keegan Christopher’s Tom Thumb and his vigorous choreography; by Jeff Haffner, lending his considerable acting strength to the ensemble; and by additional ensemble members Travis Burbee, Katie Colletta, and Chela North who also plays the supposedly ancient Joice Heth, George Washington’s 160-year-old nurse.

Barnum is an entertainment with performances and tunes to bring pleasure to an audience (no Barnum hoaxes visible) and with a final message: Join the Circus, whatever your circus may be. The production runs through September 27 on the Main Stage.

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