Phineas Taylor Barnum – the greatest showman on earth! What a statement! A claim like no other! That may be wise cracking humbug, and there may well be a 'Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute', but darn it, that fella Brian Conley as PT Barnum is certainly up there with the greatest show folk and boy what a show! There is a lovely warm chemistry from Conley with the audience and he handles all the great physical demands and vocal demands of the show with a hard earned cheeky ease and humour. The tension in the audience is palpable as he attempts to walk the high wire!
Like a previous Barnum (Michael Crawford) Conley has that wonderful ability to engage you wholesale in the emotional roller-coaster of his character with each utterly joyful and sometimes tearful note. His performance is electric and he is superbly supported by the whole talented ensemble and especially by his stage wife Chairy Barnum played by Linzi Hateley, stalwart of many a West End show. Hateley brings out all the grounded love for her husband PT Barnum and her depiction of her beautifully sung songs feel genuinely heartfelt.
Actress and singer Kimberly Blake throws a romantic Swedish spanner into PT Barnum's world with her seductive talents as 'Swedish Nightingale' Jenny Lind singing Love Makes Such Fools of Us All. The brilliant staging as she rises to the roof of the stage on a swing has her literally ending her song on powerful 'high' note.
Landi Oshinowo makes 160 year old Joice Heth one of funniest parts of the show with her mad rendition of 'Thank God I'm Old' and Landi's later talents as Blues Singer warmly imbue the musical tone perfectly in the more poignant parts of Barnum.
General Tom Thumb – only twenty-five inches tall – played by Mikey Jay -Heath flings himself into the optimistic song 'Bigger Isn't Better' with great gusto and his scene with Jumbo the huge elephant has the audience in stitches.
This is a very slick production with each of the all singing, all dancing, circus skilled cast putting in 200%. The live music (Musical Director Ian Townsend) is spot on acoustically and instrumentally and each musical number gets huge applause from the very appreciative audience.
Bang from the outset we are bedazzled by the cast playing amongst the audience and bamboozled with Conley's baloney and all sorts of circus trickery and hokum pokum. The wonderful stage set is lit like a versatile Victorian gas lit theatre with all the colours of the spectrum thrown in for free. Well maybe not for free. A few worthwhile dollars may need to spent on a ticket or two but like Barnum's American Museum I can envisage people heading for the egress and queuing round the block to see it again and again.
This exuberant production of Barnum, adapted from the original 2013 Chichester Festival Theatre Cameron Mackintosh production is utterly breath-taking acrobatically, musically, visually and fizzing with theatrical energy.
The whole concept of Barnum is that the audience get swept along wholesale on a huge musical and spectacular wave of unashamed enthusiasm and emotion and this show, beginning its tour at Leicester Curve, far from disappoints. In fact it excels beyond measure. The multi talented ensemble are a force of energy that could light up the whole of Leicester one golden brick at a time!
Barnum plays at Curve until 13th September and tours throughout the UK until August 2015.
Review originally published 11th Sept 2013 by www.thepublicreviews.co.uk