In 21st century postmodern fashion, though, I should be additionally “transparent” (whatever that silly, overused word really means) and divulge that I was on the Spotlight Players board when this particular show was selected (not to mention chair of the play selection and director selection committees when the musical was on its way through the decision-making process).
Regardless, I urge you to go check out this production of a musical that is rarely performed. You have a unique chance to see this one staged, not to mention presented with great love and energy from a game and talented cast.
Why isn’t the show done much any more? I’m not totally sure – I will admit that there are some book problems. However, it was a precursor of sorts to the modern psychodrama musical where factual biography morphs with more fantastical, metaphorical elements and back again. In essence, Barnum’s life is told in a pastiche of circus tropes. There are a number of shows that do better service to this structural approach, but this particular one is stuffed with catchy songs and many lovely character moments, particularly between Barnum and his wife Charity.
You have one more weekend to see Spotlight Players’ production, and it is a lot of fun. Clocking in at just over two hours (a blessing in community theatre), the show is briskly paced and performed with aplomb. The ensemble brings great heart, and the principals are a giddy delight. Leo Babcock sparkles as the titular showman, and Cathy Skutch matches him delightfully has Barnum’s saucy, long-suffering wife. The pair exude warmth onstage, particularly during one of the show’s signature songs “The Colors of My Life.”
Featured players Rebecca Winder as Jenny Lind, Tina Paraventi as Joice Heth, Jeff Foust as the Ringmaster, Jim Jackson as Tom Thumb, and Sarah Rauen (“Black and White”) are all excellent as well. Winder deserves special note for bringing comic zing to Lind, particularly in her first meeting with Barnum, a truly funny moment of linguistic misunderstanding akin to the finest Marx Brothers routines.
Barnum is a tough show to pull off due to the spectacle required, but Spotlight does a fine job using visual tricks of lighting and proportion and makeup, clever choreography, and abstract but effective set pieces to achieve a Big Top atmosphere. In another clever touch, the orchestra, led expertly by music director Richard Alder, remains onstage the whole time as part of the action. And there are even a few novel surprises of the pyrotechnic variety during the climactic number “Join the Circus.”
Give this one a shot – one more weekend to see. Tickets can be purchased at www.spotlightplayersmi.org. You won’t regret it…and that’s no humbug!