Review: "Barnum" at Prince William Little Theatre

 Harback Photography

Harback Photography

Christian Jost

  • Contributing Critic

While many of us are still awestruck over the smashing success that was The Greatest Showdown, we might forget that it wasn’t the first musical to deal with P.T. Barnum, nor was it the most accurate musical to do so. The great folks at PWLT, possibly cashing in on the subject’s popularity, mounted a very entertaining production of Barnum. Barnum, as the name suggests, follows the life and tribulations of P.T. Barnum, spanning decades and focusing mostly on what happened behind the scenes of his illustrious circus. It begins with Barnum in a low-profile sideshow, attempting to sell “Humbug” to as many people as he can, then we slowly see him become more and more successful, leading to his museum purchase. After that, we see tragedy after betrayal after tragedy as Barnum must ultimately figure how to go about his love of the circus.

Taking on the leading role was Matthew Scarborough, who really excelled with his work on this production. He gives Barnum the heart and soul he deserves but also the sleazy and at times heartlessness that also becomes Barnum. He never lost focus throughout the show, always being in the moment with whoever he was acting with. Being on stage pretty much the whole show, you need an actor who can carry every scene he’s in and Scarborough was more than up to the challenge. Brianna Williamson shined at Barnum’s wife, Chairy, being the emotional crux of the show. The audiences feel for her in numerous moments throughout the show, and she was believable through all of it. Aaron Talley was also very entertaining in this production, being the most believable Carney on stage, as the show’s “Ringmaster”/Narrator. Roan McLean was also given some very fun moments on stage, providing equal parts comic relief and conflict. As Jenny Lind, she was able to experiment with accents and humorous physicality, both of which were believable and enjoyable for the audience. There was also outstanding ensemble work from Andrew Morin, James Harris, and Kelsey Moran. The most standout performance of the show came from AnuRa Harrison, who had an absolutely incredible show-stopping number at the beginning of the show, and came back later for another fantastic vocal display.

As always, I am blown away by the talent and discipline in the PWLT orchestra, who never seem to miss a beat. I give credit to Jackie Owen, conductor, for that. Lights and sound also seemed to flow very effectively in this show, providing great visuals and audible moments. Kevin Douglass Smith, lighting designer, and Chuck DeLong, sound designer, show have nothing but admiration for their work here. I’ve seen many shows at PWLT and while the sets are always on the smaller side, they always see, polished and professional. This was the first time I felt the set was a little lackluster, it seemed to be missing something dazzling to pull it together. This was the circus, after all, there is a spectacle to be seen. However, I am no fool, I know not every theatre has money for Broadway level sets. After all, the set is to amplify the actors and the material, which Nick Mastrangelo did here, so I commend him for that. The direction stood the most in the production, with every scene feeling important and well flushed out. Every movement seemed deliberate, and the interactions all felt genuine. Chuck Delong really crafter a great production, as the director, and I hope to see more from him!

This show has another weekend of shows, this weekend 7/26 – 7/29 at the Gregory Family Theater in the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas Virginia. More info and tickets can be found at  http://www.pwlt.org/