BWW Review: BARNUM Hits the Heights in Melbourne
The original telling of the tale of PT Barnum has hit the stage in Melbourne in the wake of The Greatest Showman's box office success. With Todd McKenney in the titular role, the musical tells the tale of Barnum's rise from penniless sideshow operator to great impresario. With each triumph comes tragedy in the book by Mark Bramble but unfortunately in this production, we don't quite feel the tragedy.
All the characters the public knows are there, with Rachael Beck in the role of Charity Barnum, PT's stern but supportive wife; Suzie Mathers as Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale who becomes the objective of Barnum's affection, and of course the cast of circus performers who bounce and bound between each scene.
Unclear as to whether the lack of shade in this production is a result of direction or stubborn performance, the scenes requiring real heartache just scratch the surface.
However McKenney is of course at home on the stage and his exuberance shines with seemingly the same ease as he blinks. His command of the movement and his turn at the tightrope is exceptional and his charm knows no bounds.
Matching McKenney's star charisma on stage is Kirby Burgess as the Ringmaster. Throwing herself from a height and impressing with incredible circus ability, Burgess plays a number of roles throughout the show and is wonderful in each and every one. The real standout of the production.
Suzie Mathers voice soars in the role of Jenny Lind, likewise does Rachael Beck's few vocal moments as Charity Barnum. Both exceptional performers without much room to move in the lightweight story arcs they have.
The ensemble is spectacular to watch throughout with some lovely engagement between them. The circus tricks and spectacles, directed by Zebastian Hunter, are a welcome distraction from the blurry narrative. The tumbling, climbing, jugging and balancing is woven seamlessly into the scene transitions and is a lovely mechanism to keep us rolling through the tale. Whilst restricted by the floor space available, they use the height well and there is plenty to look at, often sprucing up the choreography.
Dann Barber must be commended for the perfectly glamorous yet shabby set and costume design, which is incredibly effective at setting a visual scene, making up for where the book is lacking. Clever use of the bleachers and the secondary carriage stage assist the magic of the set design, making the space feel twice the size.
Whilst it's hard to connect with the story in this production, everyone will enjoy entering the Barnum big top with assorted circus delights that'll have you clapping from start to finish.