Friday, August 24, 2018


Book by Mark Bramble
Music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Michael Stewart
Directed by Anita Davenport
Canberra Philharmonic Society
Erindale Theatre to 8 September

Reviewed by Len Power 23 August 2018

With the recent successful Hugh Jackman movie about American showman, P.T. Barnum, Cy Coleman’s 1980 Broadway musical, ‘Barnum’, was a good choice by Canberra Philharmonic Society.

The musical details the showman’s life from 1835 to 1880, covering his American Museum, his performing companies and his eventual teaming up with James Bailey to produce the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus.  It also details his troubled relationship with his wife, Charity, and his affair with ‘The Swedish Nightingale’, opera singer, Jenny Lind.

The marathon role of Barnum needs a magnetic performer who can maintain a performance of high energy throughout the show.  Greg Sollis does a fine job in the role, singing, dancing and performing the circus tricks very well.  As his down-to-earth wife, Charity, Julia Walker gives a performance of great warmth and sings attractively.

Amongst the multitude of other roles, Demi Smith stands out with her beautiful operatic singing and performance as Jenny Lind.  Mark Zatschler is terrific as Tom Thumb and Meaghan Stewart, Paul Sweeney and Kate Tricks provide colourful characterisations.  Jano Simko is a charismatic Ringmaster who performs great circus tricks but needs to speak his lines slower and with greater clarity.

The large and busy ensemble performs enthusiastically and sings and dances well.  Their performance of numerous circus tricks was exciting and very entertaining.  Choreography by Jodi Hammond was very effective in the ‘I Like Your Style’ number where the movement complemented the intention of the song.  Some other dances seemed to have little to do with the show and the Bob Fosse-style dancing (and ‘Chicago’ costumes) in ‘Black and White’ were glaringly out of period.

The circus-style set – and spectacular elephant - by Ian Croker and Steve Galinec were well done and the lighting design by Phil Goodwin was excellent.  Sound balance needs adjusting as the orchestra was often too loud over the dialogue and singing.  Musical director, Rhys Madigan, obtained a fine sound from the orchestra.  There were colourful period costumes by Chelsea de Rooy.  The costumes for Charity Barnum and Jenny Lind were especially well done.

Director, Anita Davenport, has staged a very entertaining and colourful show that moves swiftly from one scene to the next.  It certainly is ‘The Greatest Show On Earth in Canberra’.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.