'Barnum' Brings the Circus to Chatham
May 16, 2014
CHATHAM, NJ – Prepare yourself for a rollicking roller-coaster ride for "the greatest show on earth."
Yes, Barnum & Bailey Circus has come to town in the exuberant production of “Barnum” at the Chatham Playhouse. With lyrics by Michael Stewart, music by Cy Coleman and a book by Mark Bramble, the musical is all about humbug and larger-than-life entertainment.
The story of P.T. Barnum and his slight-of-hand is great fun for kids of all ages. The story centers on Phineas Taylor Barnum’s rise from owner of a museum (which burns down) to bringing Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to American audiences, to running for mayor and the Senate and, finally, to his partnership with Bailey’s circus. Barnum’s flair for show business and ‘hoodwinking’ the audience makes for hilarious hijinks. (Remember this way to the egress?)
Chris Abbott is the multi-talented Barnum, with juggling skills, a strong singing voice, a balancing act, dancing and more…all while in character and never losing his focus. He’s ably matched by Kathleen Campbell Jackson as his wife, Chairy. She’s both lovely to look at and possesses a lilting soprano.
Ray Guy as Tom Thumb pulls off a delightful number with “Bigger Isn’t Better.” The scene is cleverly staged with two performers on stilts at his side.
“Black and White” is also a highlight, when Barnum decides to run for office. But he’s finally convinced he needs color and action. . And the ‘Black and White’ number is stunning, with sleek, stylish looks for the women and tux and tie for the men. Shannon Ludlum adds pizzazz as the Blues Singer.
Sarah Kuhns makes an appealing Jenny Lind. Everyone in the cast gives it their all, and the results show.
Special note should be made of costume design by Fran Harrison. Not only does the large cast have multiple costume changes, everything from rugged backstage wear in the 1830s to the 1880s, to outfitting clowns, acrobats, period ball gowns for the women and frock coats for the men. Chairy’s cloaks and dresses are especially lush
What made the project even more challenging were several changes in cast, some because of spills during rehearsals.
But you’d never know bout all that upheaval from the smooth, smart production directed by Jeffrey Fiorello. Music director Jack Bender enhances the high spirits with the five-piece ensemble.
Some songs are romantic and quiet, such as “The Colors of My Life.” But it’s the razzle dazzle that has the audience cheering, especially with such numbers as “One Brick at a Time.”
Before the play begins, youngsters and everyone else are entertained with juggling, magic tricks and more, all overseen by Michael Healy, who plays the Ringmaster.
Well, what more can you say. The simple, fluid set design and lighting convey the aura of a circus (Robert Lukasik, Richard Hennessy.) Hair and makeup are by Raven Dunbar and Jessica Phelan, another attention to detail that makes a difference.
For a delightful diversion, you’ll have pure pleasure at “Barnum.” Performances continue through May 24 at The Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham. For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit chathamplayers.org.