Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Michael Stewart
Book by Mark Bramble

Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Starring Brad Oscar & Misty Cotton
Asolo Repertory TheatreÕs Mertz Theatre
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000
Through December 20, 2008
Moves to Co-Producer Maltz Jupiter Theatre, January 9, 2009

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker 

Step right up for the grandest musical theatre production at Asolo in decades! In myriad colored lights, the marquee announces the name of the show and its subject, notorius showman P. T. Barnum. Barkers and circus band music draw you in. Clowns, tricksters, hucksters (appealing Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory actors all) spread enthusiasm throughout the lobbies. You wonÕt be disappointed in the actual theatre, with its footlights, grand painted curtains, 19th century boxes, and color on everything and the costumes and makeup of everyone performing from the moment youÕre seated until they parade down the aisles. You canÕt say they settle down onstage; something or someone is always moving. Credit skillful director Gordon Greenberg:  Everything attracts yet nothing detracts from interest in the star of the show: Brad Oscar as the master of humbug, P. T. Barnum!
Two threads intertwine in this presentation of BarnumÕs life, 1835 to 1880, from Bridgeport, Conn. throughout America,  in world capitals, and back Ōhome.Ķ Professionally, he pursues success with a small show and then an American Museum of oddities toward his major creation of Circus and even  a short term in politics. Personally, he shares a somewhat rocky but always true love with his wife Chairy (beautiful singer and credible--especially as she matures-- actress Misty Cotton).  Chairy prefers  showmanship to be a black-and-white realistic business. As Barnum explains in the signature song ŌThe Colors of My Life,Ķ however, he champions promotional, flamboyant humbug.
The showmanÕs ascent begins when he buys a contract to present Joyce Heth (dynamic Debra Walton) as the Oldest Living Woman at age 160. SheÕs a ho-hum attraction until he makes her over  into George WashingtonÕs singing, swinging nanny. He promotes small of stature but big dancing talent Tom Thumb to General (Nathaniel Braga, made to look like a midget by being surrounded by oversize props or seated in a huge tall chair). When a soprano comes from the Old World with classic credentials, Barnum bills her as The Swedish Nightingale, and she appeals to everyday audiences. She also appeals to Barnum romantically. With Chairy keeping the homefires burning, Jenny Lind (faithfully interpreted by sophisticated blond Renee Brna) becomes BarnumÕs on-the-road flame, contributing suspense to the story of his life as well as career . A sample, even in Swedish, of her repertoire is a highlight of the musical menu, though itÕs as unmemorable as the rest of the pleasant score.
Because circus has been so important to Sarasota, Barnum was chosen to open AsoloÕs 50th Anniversary year. Brad Oscar, who comes across as a natural for P. T., illustrates as well the personality and energy of the experienced Broadway actor-singer he is. With leads and a few supporting players cast in New York, Ringmaster Kevin Kraft not only exemplifies their professionalism but also that of Asolo, where he began his stage career. Leads and ensemble alike were put through circus paces by Pedro Reis, co-founder and director of Circus Sarasota.
Musical direction by Helen Gregory never flags, as is true of Joshua RhodesÕ choreography. YouÕll marvel at the authentic and fun scene designs of Michael Schweikardt. Alejo ViettiÕs costumes meet well the close scrutiny of local circus people. The technical staff supports all with flair. Musicians will please you too.  In fact, even if the show isnÕt one of BroadwayÕs best or most memorable, you may well remember two hours seeing and hearing it in this production as a favorite.  And thatÕs not just humbug!

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