Barnum – The Circus Musical is a consistent juggling act for leading man P.T Barnum, superbly played by Todd McKenney, who walks the tightrope between salesman and fictional storyteller.
Running off the hype of the film, The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, this musical showcases P.T Barnum’s obsessive scramble to build his museum empire. Impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum is an illusioned persona, a dreamer who paints his concrete jungle in bright colours and fabricates the truth to make a profit. He speaks sheer humbug and feels little remorse for doing so, particularly in regard Charity, his wife who is played by McKenney’s previous co-star Rachel Beck.
Todd McKenney truly embodies all the charm and selfishness Mr Barnum requires. We are introduced to him as soon as the curtain rises; he sings in a sweet tone with a precise diction that is easy on the ear. McKenney’s overdramatic American accent is faultless, even when he breaks the fourth wall, which occurs often throughout the show. During these moments of character breakage, he references popular culture icons and topics such as Hugh Jackman and the current Australian federal election. Although comical, and an improvisation style explored by Hugh Jackman on occasion, it does dispel us from McKenney’s superb acting.
McKenney continues to entertain us when he walks the tightrope – without a net. Undoubtedly a difficult skill to perform, and even more so with hundreds of eyes gazing on intently, McKenney does succeed and is greatly rewarded by spectators.
It is not only McKenney who walks a fine line. The stage appears claustrophobic, its magnificent design leaving barely any wriggle room for acrobatic error. Highly conscious that the tricks must succeed, the acrobatic skills in this production are of the utmost intensity as the ensemble stand on one another’s shoulders, perform silk choreography, balance within a giant hoop, jump off the three-metre balcony to land in acrobatic style, and so much more.
In turn, Kelly Aykers’ dance choreography showcases her typical Broadway style that works seamlessly and dazzles with varied formations. This is highlighted through the scene where the museum is built from large, clown-like boxes and the acrobats throw both the boxes and themselves across the room, creating maximum jaw-dropping reactions.
Yet, it is Kirby Burgess who can do just about anything in this show. She plays the Ringmaster with compelling singing skill and projection but also embodies several characters, including male personas. She even works a Scottish accent into another character. Burgess also displays an impressive dance ability which truly makes her a triple threat and a crowd favourite.
Barnum – The Circus Musical is now showing at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre for a strictly limited season.