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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The musical's diddling with the facts of Barnum's career and his marriage (the marriage to Chairy was actually the first of three, none happy) in the interest of romance and spectacle resulted in a hit that ran 854 performances. It made Jim Dale a super star and o shone the spotlight on Glenn Close who created the role of Chairy.
Though Dale, who these days gives much pleasure to theater goers in straight acting roles (most recently Address Unknown and The Comedians ), left an indelible imprint on the title role, Barnum continues to be a crowd pleaser whenever it's staged. The revival currently at Chatham's own musical theater in the round is no exception. In fact, if you've never been to the Mac-Haydn you could be excused for thinking that the tiny circular stage was built especially for this bright and lively circus which has what seems like a small army of clowns, acrobats and young local gymnasts tumbling and stumbling all over the stage and aisles even before the show begins. While I've seen elegant classics like My Fair Lady on this same stage, this show seems especially made to order for this family friendly theater where it's common to see kids accompanied by parents as well as grandparents.
Brian Laycock doesn't walk a tightrope and isn't an especially high wattage Barnum, but his performance gains in strength as the show moves forward. Karla Shook's rich soprano and relaxed performance make for a warm and extremely likeable Chairy, whether she's singing the show's best ballad, "The Colors of My Life," with Laycock or the catchy "One Brick at a Time" with the chorus.
The major pleasure of this Barnum comes from the overall energy of the large cast as well as the clever scenic design and gorgeous costumes. Inventive touches abound -- a super-sized chair and sky high men on stilts to "downsize" the normal sized Gavin Waters' Tom Thumb and four gray, ceiling high fabric tubes put Dumbo the elephant on stage. Except for the "Black and White" number which features some terrific tap dancing the show's palette mixes American flag red, white and blue with a psychedelic rainbow.
The tiny playing area necessitates entrances and exits via three aisles and a good many blackouts, but director Jim Middleton keeps this big show moving along with amazing fluidity. Kelly L. Shook also deserves several rounds of applause for dealing with the challenge of choreographing for a large ensemble on the handkerchief-sized stage.
The Mac-Haydn Barnum may not feature big name actors or have a tightrope as did Broadway's St. James Theater or the Florida venue where Middleton himself recently played the lead, but no matter. Mr. Middleton and his gang of vibrant singers, clowns and acrobats have made this a spectacle that would have pleased even P.T. Barnum.
Unlike theaters elsewhere the Mac-Haydn doesn't try for edgy re-conceptions of popular musicals. Instead the theater sticks to its mission of reviving musicals true to the spirit of their creators. Barnum is the penultimate offering of an as usual full season, which will conclude with Rodgers' and Hammerstein's The King And I ( August 26 - September 5). If you're not from the neighborhood, plan to get to Chatham early enough to wander around this charming Columbia County town. Directions for getting there can be found at the Mac-Hadn web site, www.machaydntheatre.org.
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Morgan House Inn & Restaurant
Andrew De Vries Sculptures
Pappa Charlie's Deli
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