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Theatre Review: Barnum @ Birmingham Hippodrome


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P T Barnum was one of the biggest celebrities of the 1800s, and showman to his roots. Building on his 80-year-old wrinkles, he claimed that he was 161 - and that he was “borrowing” dwarves from parents to create Tom Thumb, before showing them off to the world alongside mermaids, elephants and Swedish opera singers.

Now Cameron Mackintosh and Michael Harrison are bringing the Tony award winning show Barnum to Birmingham, starring Brian Conley and Linzi Hateley, in an autobiographical musical that promises nothing less than colour and brilliance. Barnum is a typical Great Gatsby/Of Mice and Men American Dream mould, with life being chosen at the fate of a toss of a double-headed coin - but with a lot more “oooohs” and “ahhhhs”.

Conley and Hateley truly are virtuosic at what they do. Hateley, who was the original lead in Carrie before transferring to Broadway and becoming of the most infamous Broadway shows of all time, blew audiences away with her stage presence, blending in perfectly Conley, who has now reached his 600th performance at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Barnum is overwhelmingly colourful, oozing in hilarity, dripping in character and leaving a packed out audience begging for more. The ensemble flourished into the auditorium pre-show, to show off their circus skills to a very smiley audience. Everything was choreographed to perfection and it’s one of the best ensembles that I have ever seen.

If there’s one thing that Barnum exceeds spectacularly in, it is the impressive passing of time, with set changes and heart-breaking moments performed with the utmost authenticity.

Disclaimer: Expect stilts, fire breathers and sore hands from clapping so much.

Until August 1st.

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