Barnum – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Phineas Taylor Barnum will always be Bridgeport’s favorite son. The recent celebration of his 208th birthday may have been the impetus for retelling of his highly dramatic and colorful life story, at least from the years 1835 to 1881. Barnum was first and foremost a showman, and if he stretched veracity to the breaking point, like it was a giant slingshot, it was only to promote the wonders of what he was selling to the public. Call it flimflam, buffoonery, humbuggery or malarkey, he believed in giving value for your money, even if he also subscribed to the adage “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Calling himself a “caterer of amusement,” he delighted in finding freaks and fancies to entice the public to part with a dime and be well entertained. He created exhibitions and sideshows, museums and circuses, menageries and attractions that made and lost him millions.

If you’ve ever wanted to run away and join the circus, now is your golden opportunity. Fairfield’s gem of a theater, the Little Theatre at Sacred Heart University, is grandly presenting “BARNUM-The Musical” by Mark Bramble, Michael Stewart and Cy Coleman only until Sunday, July 22.

Come, boys and girls, and children of all ages and meet the Connecticut man who was pure showmanship. Justin Weigel delights as the bigger-than-life entrepreneur who brought to the world Jumbo, the largest elephant, Joyce Heath (Stachakay Silvers), said (by Barnum) to be George Washington’s nurse and 160 years old, General Tom Thumb, (Jake Doble) the tiniest man, and Jenny Lind, (Courtney O’Shea) the Swedish Nightingale of song. With his no-nonsense wife Charity, a lovely Jordan Norkus, at his side, this masterful man with his head in the clouds, created a dynasty of colorful theatrical magic and hocus pocus meant to amaze and to entertain.

Join the ringmaster (Zachary Thompson Lane), clown (Serginho Valcourt ),jugglers and diverse characters (Mike Villanueva, Hannah Jones, Delaney Lynch and Tori Vacca) that peopled Barnum’s universe and suspend your disbelief for a few hours. Kevin Connors directs and Marissa Powers choreographs this leap into the curious world of one of Connecticut’s own native sons.

A special bonus opening night was the appearance of Barnum’s great great great granddaughter Elinor Biggs who is clearly still fascinated by her relative P. T. and collects memorabilia which she gladly shares with others. Most recently she found two letters from P.T. to her grandfather which show the love and affection the two men shared.

She has been involved for over three decades with the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport that showcases a lot of displays about the impresario. She works closely with the museum’s Executive Director Kathleen Maher, currently on a new envisioning of Barnum’s career through epics of his life and master storytelling. This is an attempt to humanize the man and illustrate his struggles and triumphs. The pair also consulted on the recent movie “The Greatest Showman.” Both are impassioned by their work to shine a spotlight on this entertainment mastermind.

For tickets ($22, $15 seniors, faculty $15, students $10), call the Sacred Heart box office 5151 Park Street, Fairfield (exit 47 off the Merritt) at 203-371-7908 or online at Performances are today at 3 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Sunday at 3 p.m. Free, secure parking is available on the campus. Make plans now to attend the final production, “Godspell,” with book by John Michael Tebelak, and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and directed by Jim Schilling playing July 27, 28 at 8 p.m. and 29 at 3 p.m. The musical follows Jesus and his disciples as they become a community.

Now is the time to grab the kiddies and make a run for the big tent.