While not the best Cy Coleman musical, "Barnum" is still a razzle-dazzle evening with a lot of flash and humbug.
With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Michael Stewart and book by Mark Bramble, the circus musical "Barnum," which won three Tony Awards in 1980, is a bigger-than-life American musical about legendary showman P.T. Barnum, the shameless huckster who gave the world the slogan "There's a sucker born every minute." And though an imperfect musical (the book is weak), the Open at the Top production at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, running through March 26, is positively splendid: a great blend of energy and in-your-face magic.
All is set, fittingly enough, on a two-ring stage, complete with ladders, ropes and circus equipment. Credit Craig Siebels for the terrific set, Shon LeBlanc for the costumes, Luke Moyer for the lighting and Jonathan Zenz for the sound, all under the savvy direction of Josh Prince, who also choreographed.
When first we see flimflam artist Barnum (the multitalented James J. Mellon), he is hustling tickets to see Joice Heth (the talented Regina Le Vert), a "160-year-old black slave who was the so-called nurse of George Washington." She sings the raucous "Thank God I'm Old." The stage is set for Barnum, king of humbug.
Only wife Charity "Chairy" Barnum (the lyrical and lovely Yvette Lawrence) is skeptical about the flamboyant P.T. She's a straight-shooting Connecticut Yankee, a schoolteacher who sees things in black and white and not in magical colors. Their duet "The Colors of My Mind" establishes the conflict between them. She's earthbound, while he's a dreamer -- writer Bramble implies that he is epitome of the American Dream -- with all sorts of over-the-top schemes.
When the beautiful Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale" (a touching performance by Emily Kosloski), comes into his life, Barnum succumbs, and Chairy goes back to Connecticut. P.T. returns to Chairy, but only after Jenny sings the plaintive "Love Makes Such Fools of Us All."
When Barnum retires, he goes into politics -- and really learns the meaning of political humbug. When the young James A. Bailey comes along and offers a partnership in a circus, Barnum finally accepts, and they create the Greatest Show on Earth, with all the colors intact as the company sings "Join the Circus," the grand finale to a grand showman.
Credit Robert Mammana (in a variety of roles), Adam Simmons (General Tom Thumb) and the Cirque Players' Elly Jaresko, J.R. Mangels, Dan Perry, Jennifer Richardson, Jacquelyn Levy, Danielle Vernengo and Zenz for solid and spirited support.
P.T. Barnum: James J. Mellon
Chairy Barnum: Yvette Lawrence
Ringmaster: Robert Mammana
Joice Heth: Regina Le Vert
Mrs. Stratton: Elly Jaresko
Tom Thumb: Adam Simmons
Jenny Lind: Emily Kosloski
Music: Cy Coleman; Lyrics: Michael Stewart; Book: Mark Bramble; Director-choreographer: Josh Prince; Scenic designer: Craig Siebels; Lighting designer: Luke Moyer; Costume designer: Shon LeBlanc; Sound designer: Jonathan Zenz; Musical director: A.J. Robb.
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