Entertaining and Colourful Account of Phineas Taylor Barnum’s Life

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Cy Coleman & Michael Stewart: Barnum:  The Lowry, Salford Quays,  Salford, 4,8.2015. (MC)

Brian Conley as Barnum
Brian Conley as Barnum

‘The Cameron Mackintosh/Chichester Festival Theatre Production’ in a revised version by Cameron Mackintosh and Mark Bramble

Brian Conley : Phineas Taylor Barnum
Linzi Hateley: Charity ‘Chairy’ Barnum
Kimberly Blake: Jenny Lind
Landi Oshinowo: Joice Heth/Blues Singer
Mikey Jay-Heath:  General Tom Thumb
John Stacey : Ringmaster/James Anthony Bailey

Musical Supervisor: Stephen Brooker
Musical Director/Keyboard: Ian Townsend
Orchestrator: William David Brown
Sound design: Mick Potter
Original Lighting Design: Paule Constable
Tour Lighting: Richard Pacholsky & Simon Sheriff
Circus Consultant: Juliette Hardy-Donaldson
Costume Design: Paul Wills
Associate Scenic Design: Lone Schacksen
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Choreographer: Andrew Wright
Director: Jean-Pierre van der Spuy


Colourful, spectacular and entertaining the musical Barnum written by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart follows the career of Phineas Taylor Barnum, America’s greatest showman, from 1835 until 1880 when he partnered James A. Bailey to form ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’.

A packed Lowry theatre was thrilled by the musical witnessing a winning performance by Brian Conley in the starring role as Phineas Taylor Barnum with his catch phrase “Barnum’s the name, humbug’s the game.” Even before the curtain was raised the raucous entertainment started with a large troupe of clowns and acrobats, joking, juggling and performing tricks while walking in and out of the aisles. At one point a clown expertly balanced three soft balls on my head.

Under Jean-Pierre van der Spuy’s expert direction this was a fast moving show from start to finish with so much going on the time just flew by. It would be hard to imagine a more colourful spectacle from the dazzlingly vivid clothing to the splashy stage equipment often accompanied by dancing or some acrobatic exploits performed while suspended on ropes from the ceiling. If ‘Barnum’ has a fault it’s the lack of a killer song, nevertheless all are agreeable and were well performed with ‘The Colours of My Life’ and ‘Come Follow the Band’ the catchiest numbers by far.

Decked out mainly in bold checks Brian Conley was in his element as Taylor Barnum, a role that could have been made for him. His beaming smile and equally large personality lit up the theatre as did his jokes and interplay with the audience while his stunts included tight-rope walking to drum rolls and fire-eating. Although he’s not the greatest singer in the world with his husky, attractive tone he can perform a song effectively and he can certainly engage an audience.

Linzi Hateley made a lovable Charity ‘Chairy’ Barnum with her positive outlook and her all forgiving personality. The tender duet with Conley ‘I Like Your Style’ demonstrated Hateley’s smooth, clear tone. Also worthy of note was the duet ‘The Colours of My Life’ where Conley and Hateley as the ailing wife close to death played a moving scene reaffirming their love for each other.

Playing the beautiful young opera star Jenny Lind,‘the Swedish Nightingale’, was Kimberly Blake clearly looking a touch awkward with her acting. Whilst sat on a swing Blake’s singing ‘Love Makes Such Fools of Us All’ was reasonable, maybe she was perturbed by being elevated to the ceiling.

General Tom Thumb ‘the smallest man in the world’ was played by Mikey Jay-Heath. Tom Thumb’s song ‘Bigger Isn’t Better was delivered by Jay-Heath with a splendid vocal not detracted at all by the demands of dancing and executing acrobatics.

African-American slave Joice Heth who was exhibited by Barnum as the 160 year old and a former nurse of George Washington was marvellously played by Landi Oshinowo fortified by an occasional swig from a hipflask. Displaying impressive  clarity of projection Oshinowo excelled with the cleverly worded old woman’s song ‘Thank God I’m Old’ and showed real commitment in her later role as the Blues Singer.

The ten strong ensemble conducted by musical director Ian Townsend, who also played keyboard, sounded superb, contributing greatly to the success of the evening. Impossible to fault was the pin-sharp choreography. The costumes and make-up were most effective.

Barnum ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ is certainly one of the most entertaining musicals around and in the title role Brian Conley had the Lowry audience in the palm of his hand and deserved the standing ovation.

Michael Cookson

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