Last night we went to see Barnum at the NoHo Arts Center. Now, I’ve seen Barnum before, in January 1982 at the Pantages Theatre with most of the original cast: Jim Dale, Glenn Close, Catherine Gaines, Ray Roderic, Terri White, Terrence V. Mann, and others. I love Cy Coleman‘s music and the music from the show: not only do I have the original cast recording, but I also have very rare Cy Coleman Trio recording of Barnum (Gryphon Records G-918). So I’ve very familiar with the music.
After seeing that the NoHo Center was doing Barnum, I ordered tickets to the show via Goldstar Events. The NoHo Center is a small (99 seat) theatre in North Hollywood, formerly the American Renegade Theatre. It was my first time there; needless to say I was impressed and I’ll see if they have other interesting shows.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it tells the story of P.T. Barnum, from his first “humbug” with Joice Heth (after he met his wife Charity Barnum) until the creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. It has a very Dixie-land score, and features rope tricks, juggling, tightrope walking, marching bands, the world’s smallest man, the world’s oldest woman, the world’s biggest elephant, magic tricks, and more… all with a cast of 12. Don’t believe me? See the show.
For the most part, the cast was excellent. Barnum was played by James J. Mellon, Artistic Director of Open at the Top (the company doing the production) and the NoHo Arts Center… and the President and Founding Pastor of the NoHo Arts Center for New Thought. I mention this because this fellow has the remarkable charisma and acting chops of a great pastor. He becomes Barnum, and was excellent in the role. He is also the author of many musicals, including Dorian, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and the upcoming Lizard at the NoHo Arts Center.
Others in the cast included Janet Fontaine as Chairy Barnum (filling in for Yvette Lawrence); Emily Kosloski as Jenny Lind, Robert Mammana as the Ringmaster, Jacquelyn Levy as Joice Heth/Blues Singer (filling in for Regina LeVert), Dan Perry as Tom Thumb (our third understudy), and Cory Benjamin, Elly Jaresko, J. R. Mangels, Jennifer Richardson, Jonathan Zenz, and Jamie Rogers. The production was directed by Josh Prince, with musical direction by A.J. Robb, Scenic Design by Craig Siebels, Lighting by Luke Moyer, Costumes by Shon Leblanc, and Sound by Jonathan Zenz.
What did I think of the production? Good and bad. I thought the cast, for the most part, was excellent. In some of the early songs, Ms. Fontaine’s voice was a bit weak, and I think Jacquelyn Levy could have belted a bit more. My wife noted that Ms. Kosloski didn’t quite have Jenny Lind’s range. In terms of acting, however, the cast was uniformly excellent, and the 99-seat venue allowed one to see the facial expressions of the cast, and share in the 0bvious joy this cast has in doing the show. I did miss some of the benefits a larger theatre provides; in particular, the number “Come Follow The Band” needs a full marching band to be entirely effective. But that’s a nit; I truly enjoyed the show.
Reviews for the show have been mostly raves. Backstage.Com says that the show is “a great blend of energy and in-your-face magic”. TheatreMania.Com says that the NoHo Arts Center lifts “this musical to new heights with a minimal orchestra, a cast of 12, and a stage smaller than most living rooms”. ShowMag.Com says “small theater doesn’t get any better than this”. The only pan came from the Daily News, which said ” to succeed, “Barnum” needs razzle-dazzle, and this tight space prohibits it”, although it looks like they attended on a night frought with mishaps.
The show has one more week, and supposedly tickets are still available for next weekend. Don’t look for us there; we’ll be out in Perris at the Orange Empire Railway Museum for the Spring Train and Trolley Festival. Come by and say hi: I’ll be on one of the cabooses 3rd shift on Saturday, and on train 51 (the passenger train) all day on Sunday. Upcoming theatre events include Defending The Caveman this Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, and Hair at CSUN on May 13. Of course, we’ll also be seeing shows at the RenFaire on April 29. Shows I’m planning to get tickets for include Curtains at the Ahamanson, and Don’t Dress for Dinner at the RepEast Playhouse.