‘Barnum’ comes to the Weston stage

Some members of Weston High School Company gear up at the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport in preparation for opening night of the hit musical ‘Barnum’ on March 20. From left are David Katz, Amanda Maddox, Kevin MacWilliams, Krista MacDonald, Jack Seigenthaler, and Sarah Metchick. —Peter Friedman photo

Some members of Weston High School Company gear up at the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport in preparation for opening night of the hit musical ‘Barnum’ on March 20. From left are David Katz, Amanda Maddox, Kevin MacWilliams, Krista MacDonald, Jack Seigenthaler, and Sarah Metchick. —Peter Friedman photo

With singing, dancing, juggling, and tightrope walking, the talented members of Weston High School’s Company will present the hit Broadway musical Barnum March 20 to 22 and March 27 and 28.

The show celebrates the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, a Connecticut-born entrepreneur who is often credited with creating family entertainment in America.

“The noblest art is that of making others happy,” is one of P.T. Barnum’s most famous maxims, said Kathy Maher, executive director of the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport.

That’s exactly what Barnum aimed to do, said Ms. Maher. She likens the experience of visiting Disneyworld for families today to the entertainment that Barnum created in the 19th Century. In the mid-1800s, women and children didn’t go to the theater, she said. But in 1842, when the astute businessman opened Barnum’s American Museum in lower Manhattan, he created America’s “first mass entertainment attraction,” said Ms. Maher, who will be appearing at a TalkBack on Sunday, March 22, at Weston High School.

Jack Seigenthaler plays P.T. Barnum, and Sarah Metchick plays his wife, Chairy. —Peter Friedman photo

Jack Seigenthaler plays P.T. Barnum, and Sarah Metchick plays his wife, Chairy. —Peter Friedman photo

The play

The show tells the story of Barnum’s life from his promotion of acts like Tom Thumb and Swedish singer Jenny Lind to the creation of Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”

The 34-member cast includes Jack Seigenthaler (as Barnum), Sarah Metchick (as Chairy, his wife), Janna Sturgis (as Swedish singer Jenny Lind), and David Katz (as Tom Thumb).

Other cast members include Amanda Maddox (as Joice Heth, the oldest woman) and Krista Nayden, Kevin MacWilliams and Seth Woodhouse.

The show is “a great educational tool because whoever works on it learns multiple crafts: walking on stilts, juggling, the Spanish web, and tightrope walking,” said Kevin Slater, the show’s director. “Who doesn’t want to join the circus?” he said.

“There’s a song at the end of the show, Join the Circus, and that’s really the message,” said Mr. Slater, who also directed Barnum at Bedford Middle School in 2006.

A professional circus trainer who has worked with Cirque du Soleil and his daughter are teaching such skills as juggling, plate spinning, and diabolo (a juggling prop) to all cast members. They are also training a few cast members to master tightrope walking.

Music

Barnum is one of the few musicals that appeals to all age groups, Mr. Slater said.

“Cy Coleman writes an amazing musical,” he said, citing such Barnum songs as The Colors of My Life and I Like Your Style.

When Barnum opened on Broadway in 1980, Jim Dale won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Lyrics for Barnum are by Michael Stewart and the book was written by Mark Bramble.

When Zach Kampler came on board as associate director and musical adviser for the Company production, Mr. Slater they pushed to have an all-student band for Barnum. The pit is led by Steve Fasoli, who is in his first year as Weston High School band director after the retirement of Sal LaRusso.

The 23-member band for Barnum and the whole cast met for a two-hour rehearsal last week under Mr. Fasoli’s direction.

“Boy, did Weston High School hire the right guy when they hired him,” Mr. Slater said. “He is enthusiastic, incredibly knowledgeable, flexible with the students, and a creative team member. Most importantly, he is setting a high standard” for the band members, he said.

“I have never in my 20 years of doing educational theater had a full cast and all-band rehearsal this early in the process,” Mr. Slater said. The main benefit? “It builds teamwork and morale. Nobody is working in a bubble.”

The cast has been rehearsing long hours, often three hours a night ending at 9:30.

Mr. Slater, who directed the WHS Company’s drama The Laramie Project this fall, said his goal in every show is about the students’ learning experience. “It’s about the process. If you don’t like being in a dark theater every night for two and a half or three hours and rehearsing the same material, then go and do something else,” he said.

The cast of WHS Company’s ‘Barnum,’ including Jack Seigenthaler, who plays the ultimate showman, received professional circus training for the production. —Kerry Brock photo

The cast of WHS Company’s ‘Barnum,’ including Jack Seigenthaler, who plays the ultimate showman, received professional circus training for the production. —Kerry Brock photo

Circus training

For this show, the added bonus is the fun of the circus training. “The audience is the icing on the cake,” he said.

“I want them to look at the DVD of Barnum 10 or 15 years from now and say, for a high school production, that was awesome.”

When he was a student at Staples High School, Mr. Slater was an associate director and Mr. Kampler was a student conductor. “We are passionate about the experience we had in high school,” said Mr. Slater, who is working in his first year as director for Weston High School after the eight-year leadership of Damien Long.

Erik Paul is the show’s musical director and Rudd Anderson is the choreographer.

There will be a student-directed pre-show in the lobby as people enter to see Barnum. It will set a circus atmosphere, which will include students performing circus acts, as well as some photographs and background about the life of P.T. Barnum.

Mr. Barnum was born on a farm in Bethel, and later often commuted between New York City and Bridgeport.

As one of America’s first celebrities, Phineas Taylor Barnum aimed to deliver value to the masses of people who flocked to see his colorful shows, Ms. Maher said. His American Museum attracted 600,000 visitors a year in a city with a population of 300,000.

When his second American Museum was destroyed in a fire, he opened the Hippodrome on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, which eventually became Madison Square Garden, Ms. Maher said. In its enormous circular rink, the Hippodrome featured great pageantries and technological and cultural curiosities.

Ms. Maher is spearheading the effort to reopen the Barnum Museum, which was planned by P.T. Barnum, after it closed in 2010 due to extensive damage from a tornado.

Barnum will be performed on Friday, March 20, and Saturday, March 21, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 22, at 3 (followed by TalkBack with Kathy Maher of the Barnum Museum).

The following weekend, it will be performed on Friday, March 27, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 28, at 3.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children and seniors. For tickets, go to whscompany.com.

About author

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© HAN Network. All rights reserved. The Weston Forum, 16 Bailey Avenue, Ridgefield, CT 06877

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress