The People’s Barnum at Quest Theatre Ensemble | Theater review
Quest’s fanciful aesthetic is well matched to Cy Coleman’s musical bio of the all-American huckster.
Part Donald Trump and part Billy Mays, legendary swindler Phineas Taylor Barnum was the sort of self-made capitalist you can’t help but admire. His sideshow hoaxes—“humbugs,” as he dubbed them—were as fanciful as they were egregious, ranging from George Washington’s 160-year-old nurse to the preserved remains of a mermaid, exhibits that Barnum had enough audacity to display in something he generously labeled a “museum.” Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s upbeat 1980 musical follows the all-American narcissist’s rise to fame, as well as Barnum’s embattled relationship with his left-brain counterweight wife.
The show’s a fitting selection for Quest Theatre Ensemble’s playful aesthetic (featuring beautiful and functional set and puppets by Nick Rupard) and a showcase for director Andrew Park’s multitalented young cast. Surrounding Barnum (Jason Bowen) and his begrudging, more reasonable other half (Laura Sturm) is a frenetic chorus of brass players, jugglers, dancers and singers, led by cartoonishly charming ringmaster David Hathaway. The company competently handles Coleman’s periodically catchy music (“One Brick at a Time” is as gleeful as it is frivolous), even if the actors seem to overextend themselves a bit when they step into the ring. At two hours, The People’s Barnum deflates around the time Barnum’s autobiographical interests lose steam. Still, these barkers are fun and ambitious enough to merit a peek.