"Barnum" (Mercury Theatre): Less Circus, More Narration

"Barnum" (Mercury Theatre):  Less Circus, More Narration

Mercury Theater Chicago presents BARNUMP.T. Barnum (1810-1891) is a name associated with circus, specifically; the Ringling Bros’ Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Interestingly, Barnum didn’t throw his hat into the ring until age 61.  Even before he became the ringmaster, Barnum had a colorful life.  He was a showman, con artist, entrepreneur and politician.  He boasted a museum of human oddities, including; the smallest man, the oldest woman and the Feejee mermaid.  He had a wife named Charity and a leading lady named Jenny Lind.  This show is described in the playbill as ‘a musical suggested by the life of P.T. Barnum.’  BARNUM is less of a three ring circus and more of a man-behind-the-big-top narration.

With a name like BARNUM, I expected a spectacle.  And I was curious to see how the intimate Mercury Theatre would stage death-defying feats.  Although there are bursts of mini circus acts sprinkled throughout the show and ten minutes of full-on carnie-inspired pandemonium, BARNUM is more about the perceived influences in P.T.’s life leading up to founding a circus. Mark Bramble wrote the book as a personal contemplation. Gene Weygandt (Barnum) delivers the long orations as a charismatic virtuoso.  The role is perfect for Weygandt’s natural exuberance.  He swindles the audience in to rooting for his success despite his humbug methodologies.  Although the show is pretty focused on the man himself, the steadfast Cory Goodrich (Charity) and the alluring Summer Naomi Smart (Jenny) lend their vocal talents for memorable melodies.  Goodrich sings a wistful rendition of “Colors of my life” while Smart delivers a splendid aria in “Love makes such fools of us.”

BARNUM isn’t the extravaganza I imagined it would be.  It’s more like the homespun creation it probably was in real life.  For the “Come follow the band” number, the uniforms seem almost makeshift.  In the circus hoopla scene, animals are wooden cutouts. Although I enjoyed it for its high-energy cast, I had anticipated more sensational pageantry from the name associated with ‘the best show on earth.‘

Running Time:  Two hours and ten minutes includes an intermission

At Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport

Book by Mark Bramble

Lyrics by Michael Stewart

Music by Cy Coleman

Directed by L. Walter Stearns

Musical direction by Eugene Dizon

Wednesdays at 7:30pm

Thursdays at 2pm and 7:30pm

Fridays at 8pm

Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm

Sundays at 2pm

Thru June 16th

Buy Tickets at www.mercurytheaterchicago.com


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  • The fantastic Jenny Lind is played by Summer Naomi Smart. Not Summer Naomi Stuart. Although, I couldn't agree more with how splendid her aria was.

  • Thank you for the correction. And my apologies to Ms. Smart.

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