If you are going to do any show (let alone a musical) about J. P. Barnum, the self styled "greatest showman on earth", then you better be prepared to put on a "GREAT SHOW". Everything Barnum wanted for a show was always over the top. He wanted a spectacle, not just a show. Trying to recreate that spectacular event and condense it down to a stage (even one the size of The Playhouse Theatre) must have been a huge task for everyone involved in tonight's show.
From the moment you entered the theatre tonight it was obvious something different was going on as the theatre was strung with light bulbs across the ceiling giving the effect of being in a show tent. That pulling of the audience into Barnum's circus was followed by circus performers putting on a show in the seating areas of the theatre before the main show even began.
Once the curtain was up and the set on show, it was obvious from the circular "big top" centre stage that this show had very high production values. This, as you would expect from a Cameron Mackintosh and Michael Harrison production, is a big budget show, and it does show in everything tonight - costumes, sets, lighting, circus performers, and of course the performance itself.
This is a very busy show with just so much going on all the time on stage with acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists and other circus performers that I am sure I could visit this show every night and still be missing something on stage. Despite all the circus performers though, this show ultimately lives or dies on the two main characters of the show - J.P. Barnum (Brian Conley) and Chairy Barnum (Linzi Hateley).
Brian Conley was I heard suffering from a fair bit of a cold tonight, but despite that still turned in a performance that delighted the audience tonight. The odd little magic trick did not go to plan for Brian tonight and the highwire walk was "interesting". Brian is, however, such a professional performer with such a great rapport with his audience that he just made everything look completely planned. Brian just filled the stage tonight as Barnum and to play this part, you have to be able to do that, and do it well.
Linzi Hateley was perfect tonight as the more serious counterpart to her Barnum's on-stage blustering and "flim - flam". As well as singing some great songs with genuine feeling, Linzi is a talented actress who was able to give the show the dramatic counterpoints it needed at times.
There were also some fine performances tonight from Kimberly Blake as Jenny Lind, Landi Oshinowo as Joice Heth/ Blues Singer, Mikey Jay-Heath as Tom Thumb and John Stacey as Ringmaster/Bailey.
This is a spectacle of a show, and if you get a chance this week, go and catch it while it is in Edinburgh at The Playhouse Theatre.
Review by Tom King