The greatest showman came to California Baptist University, April 5 – April 13, with Wallace Theatre’s production of “Barnum” (1890), a musical portrait of the nineteenth century career of P.T. Barnum, co-founder of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. CBU students brought the whimsical spectacles to life with a show of song and dance.
Jordan Elliott, sophomore communication studies and leadership studies double major, said what makes this version of Barnum unique is that it focuses on a more historical depiction of Barnum.
“Everybody knows P.T. Barnum as Hugh Jackman in ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2018), which paints P.T. Barnum as this perfect guy. But ‘Barnum’ does a better job showing a little more about who he actually was,” Elliott said.
Ryan Lee, sophomore communication studies major, plays the leading role of P.T. Barnum and described his character as more than just “the circus guy.”
“He was someone who wanted to shed light on our oddities – the things that make us different – and wanted to bring color into the world,” Lee said.
Elliott plays the role of the ringmaster, the show’s narrator, as well as the smaller role of Bailey of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Elliott said the biggest challenge of “Barnum” for him was learning how to do all the acrobatics seen on stage.
“I am doing a lot of tricks and acrobatics. There are stilts and people twirling around on stage and that is something I would have never seen myself doing in a million years,” Elliott said.
Lisa Lyons, adjunct professor of theatre and the director of “Barnum,” said the musical was selected by the theater program because it is entertaining and appropriate for all ages.
“Seeing how much everyone enjoyed ‘The Greatest Showman’ reminded me of how much I enjoyed seeing ‘Barnum’ when I was in college. The circus aspect of the show is certainly fun and exciting,” Lyons said.
The theater program recently put an increased emphasis on getting more people involved in each production. “Barnum” featured an ensemble opportunity for students. Elliott said this is the first time CBU has ever had a cast of more than 30 people.
“It is one of the biggest shows that CBU has ever put on and so many things are happening at all times. No matter what the storyline is, you are going to be able to see the spectacle of it all,” Elliott said.
Lyons said having so many people involved is both a challenge and a blessing.
“The biggest challenge is the cast size. It is just so many people. But each student has brought something special to the show and I looked forward to having an audience see that,” Lyons said.
Both Lee and Elliott said they have grown as performers because of the work they put into “Barnum.”
“I do theater shows every semester. But this show is completely different in that I had to go in and sit down with my director because I not only had to do what I normally do as an actor, I had to learn all these new skills like magic tricks and acrobatics,” Lee said.
Elliott said he had the opportunity to train with an American acrobatics team for his role.
“I had to overcome the discomfort of doing something I had never done before,” Elliott said.
While all involved were eager to get in front of an audience and show the outcome of all their hard work, rehearsals were a rewarding part of the process for the cast and crew.
“We have had a great time in rehearsal, especially exploring what tricks we could do as clowns, with students learning to be acrobats and then putting it all together and making it flow,” Elliott said.
Alyssa Gowling, junior communication sciences and disorders major, attended an opening weekend show of “Barnum” on April 6 and said she enjoyed the fun costumes, colors, acrobatics and magic tricks in the musical.
“They really did a great job with such a small space. All the colors were super-fun, as well as the live music from the orchestra,” Gowling said.
“Barnum” is Wallace Theater’s final production for the spring semester.