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BARNUM @ The Swan Theatre, High Wycombe

Published by: Yvonne Delahaye on 8th Oct 2014 | View all blogs by Yvonne Delahaye

BARNUM_Wycombe_600x200_2.jpg ‘Barnum’s the name, P T Barnum, and I want to tell you that tonight, on this stage, you are going to see - bar none - every sight, wonder and miracle that name stands for!’
This exhilarating musical follows the irrepressible imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, America’s Greatest Showman. The story of his life and his marriage to Chairy reveals a couple who looked at the world from opposite sides of the spectrum, and also reveals that she was the practical one who made his dreams come true.  We follow the legendary showman’s life as he lit up the world with colour, warmth and the excitement of his imagination and finally teamed up with J A Bailey to create Barnum and Bailey’s Circus - the Greatest Show on Earth.

Starring Brian Conley (Oliver!, Hairspray, Jolson) and Linzi Hateley (Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia!, Chicago, Les Misérables), Cy Coleman’s wonderfully exuberant score includes the hits; Come Follow The Band , The Colours Of My Life and There Is A Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute .
 Barnum is a musical with a book by Mark Bramble, lyrics by Michael Stewart, and music by Cy Coleman. It is based on the life of showman P. T. Barnum, covering the period from 1835 through 1880 in America and major cities of the world where Barnum took his performing companies. The production combines elements of traditional musical theatre with the spectacle of the circus. The characters include jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns, as well as such real-life personalities as Jenny Lind and General Tom Thumb.

The original production opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway, on April 30, 1980 and closed on May 16, 1982 after 854 performances and 26 previews. The show starred Jim Dale as P.T. Barnum, Glenn Close as Chariy Barnum and Marianne Tatum as Jenny Lind. Jim Dale won a Tony and Drama Desk Award for his performance in the title role.

The show made its West End debut on June 11, 1981 at the London Palladium, where it ran for 655 performances. The London cast included Michael Crawford as P.T. Barnum, Deborah Grant as Charity Barnum and Sarah Payne as Jenny Lind. Crawford reprised his role opposite Eileen Battye in a UK Tour of the show which ran between 1984 and 1986, stopping off at various venues including the Manchester Opera House and Victoria Palace Theatre. The tour was recorded for television and broadcast by the BBC in 1986. It was later released on VHS and DVD.

In 2013 Cameron Mackintosh revived the musical at the Theatre in The Park for the Chichester Festival Theatre, which was closed at the time.  Two-time Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald played Barnum and when a UK tour was muted, Brian Conley was cast and so the hard work began for him.

Brian Conley is one of our great all-round entertainers and is perfectly cast as the larger-than-life showman, commanding the stage, eking out every bit of comedy, but also showing emotional depth in the second act.  I saw him earlier this year at The Swan in his one man show and his warmth, humour and energy infects the audience and you know he has everyone in the palm of his hands.  He said then that he was anxious about learning to tight rope walk and we all held our breath when he, thankfully, made it across the stage.  This role needs a big personality and with Brian’s stature dominating the stage, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role now.

Linzi Hately, as his wife Chairy, is the perfect match and we really feel the genuine warmth, affection and support that she gave to husband P.T. She has a beautiful singing voice and captures her strength and vulnerability perfectly. When Kimberley Blake, as Jenny Lind the opera singer, sang Love Makes Such Fools of Us All you could hear every crystal note, so pure and resonant was the sound I’m sure it could shatter glass!

The show is brash, colourful, energetic and dynamic.  It’s a sensory feast that leaves you dazzled at all of the activity, never being able to see everything as there is so much happening all around you.  The costumes are sumptuous and vibrant and the ensemble of dancer/acrobats are so incredibly talented and strong, that I did wonder how some of their feats got past the Health & Safety brigade!

The show runs at The Swan, High Wycombe from:
Tue 7 - Sat 11 October
Tickets £23.00* - £39.00*
A £1.50 per ticket booking fee applies, capped at six per order. Fee-free booking for Friends of Wycombe Swan; Groups of 10+ please call 01494 552875.
The tour will continue around the UK until next summer, so for dates near  you please visit:

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
Twitter: yvonnedelahaye


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Thanks, Yvonne. This sounds wonderful.
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