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Review Roundup: Christopher Fitzgerald-Led BARNUM

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Review Roundup: Christopher Fitzgerald-Led BARNUM

Christopher Fitzgerald and Tamsin Carroll star in BARNUM at the Chichester Festival Theatre. This exhilarating musical follows the irrepressible imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, America's Greatest Showman. The story of his life and his marriage to Chairy reveals a couple who looked at the world from opposite sides of the spectrum, and also reveals that she was the practical one who made his dreams come true. We follow the legendary showman's life as he lit up the world with the colour, warmth and excitement of his imagination and finally teamed up with J A Bailey to create Barnum and Bailey's Circus - the Greatest Show on Earth.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Dominic Cavendish: Telegraph: When the rousing opening number proclaims "There is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute" you might say we've been duly warned not to expect the earth. About Cy Coleman's music and Michael Stewart's lyrics, which brilliantly conjure spit and sawdust romance and old-fashioned razzmatazz, there can be few complaints. And Timothy Sheader's tightly drilled, compactly designed and wholesomely acrobatic production is unstinting in its energy and euphoria levels. But even the gasp-inducing highlight, worth the price of admission alone, in which Fitzgerald treads a tight-rope, singing as he goes, can't disguise the lack of dramatic jeopardy in Mark Bramble's flimsy book. The most testing facet of the story -Barnum's affair with a dazzling Swedish singer - is little more than a sideshow. Hats off to co-producer Cameron Mackintosh for helping cheer Chichester audiences over the summer. Whether he'd be wise to transfer this anywhere less authentically atmospheric is another question.

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: It's the most felicitous combination. Chichester's splendid new temporary auditorium, in action while the stately Festival Theatre gets a makeover, is a state-of-the-art 1,400-seat "big top" in the middle of verdant Oaklands Park. What more ideal place, then, to stage a revival of the musical Barnum (1980), about the circus entrepreneur and creator of the self-proclaimed "greatest show on earth"?

Phil Hewitt, Chichester Observer: But the first night still brought an ecstatic response. Maybe it either grabs you or it doesn't. An astonishing amount of work has gone into it, and there's no doubting the skill or the energy. But The Music Man this isn't. Even with this reworking, Barnum doesn't truly persuade that here's a lost gem that the world has been mad to overlook for so long - even if it does give us a glimpse of the world's biggest elephant. But the first night still brought an ecstatic response. Maybe it either grabs you or it doesn't. An astonishing amount of work has gone into it, and there's no doubting the skill or the energy. But The Music Man this isn't. Even with this reworking, Barnum doesn't truly persuade that here's a lost gem that the world has been mad to overlook for so long - even if it does give us a glimpse of the world's biggest elephant.

Paul Vale, The Stage: In the end, any production of Barnum has to be about the spectacle, as there is very little substance to either the story or music. Despite the impressive credits of the creative team and the evident commitment of the company, modern audiences familiar with the spectacle of Cirque de Soleil or La Clique will simply find it wanting.

Anne Cox, The Bucks Herald: This is a crowd-pleasing musical that doesn't disappoint. The big tune, Come Follow The Band, heralds the start of the second act and reflects the tone for a spectacular night of entertainment. The whole production oozes charm and exuberance. Jack North has a moment to shine as the tap-dancing Tom Thumb as does the beautiful Anna O'Byrne as the Swedish Songbird Jenny Lind and Aretha Ayeh as the "ancient" Joice Heth (I sure hope I can move as well as her at her age!).

Ian Murray, Daily Echo: Clever choreography and special effects play theirpart. In particular watch out for the world's smallest man meeting the world's largest elephant. And the finale plays out to the most sensational three-ring circus extravaganza. Chichester's gamble to move under modern canvas for this year's big productions appears to have paid off. Barnum said his success was down to a sucker being born every minute. The only suckers here will be the ones who fail to grab a ticket

Phil Hewitt, Midhurst & Petworth Observer: But the first night still brought an ecstatic response. Maybe it either grabs you or it doesn't. An astonishing amount of work has gone into it, and there's no doubting the skill or the energy. But The Music Man this isn't. Even with this reworking, Barnum doesn't truly persuade that here's a lost gem that the world has been mad to overlook for so long - even if it does give us a glimpse of the world's biggest elephant.

David Benedict, Variety: Ultimately, the production's dilemma is summed up by Fitzgerald's tightrope walk, a bold and impressive feat. But musicals should be about audiences thrilling to the achievement, not admiring the actor's effort and the amount of rehearsal it took to get there.With almost all A-grade musicals having been restaged in living memory, producers seeking to revive a hit are now forced to head further down the list. This revival is, in one sense, a perfect fit in the giant, purpose-built tent for Chichester's summer season. But a move into the West End will expose its shortcomings, and with the Tony-winning revamp of "Pippin" already in Broadway's millionaires club, the Gotham prospects for this seriously flawed circus-based tuner look slim.

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