Barnum, the musical theater treatment of the life of impresario Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum (1810-1891) that followed the famed promoter from his first show in 1835 to his 1881 merging of his circus with that of James Anthony Bailey to form the Barnum & Bailey Circus, became a long-running success on Broadway upon its opening on April 30, 1980, largely due to the talents of its star, 44-year-old British actor/singer Jim Dale, who embodied the title role with all the extroverted charm required and won a Tony award for his trouble. Composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Michael Stewart's score was appealing, especially the inevitable "There Is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute" (Barnum's catch phrase), the lyrical ballad "The Colors of My Life," the lively "Come Follow the Band," and "Join the Circus," which Barnum and Bailey later featured as a theme song. Naturally, Coleman used circus music as his main inspiration, and Stewart imbued his lyrics with Barnum's sense of engaging balderdash. Barnum discoveries Joice Heth (Terri White), Tom Thumb (Leonard John Crofoot), and Jenny Lind (Marianne Tatum) got their own songs, and there was a ringmaster (William C. Witter), who treated Barnum's life as though it was a series of circus acts. As Barnum's wife, Glenn Close had a rather thankless part, but she made the best of it, notably in her only solo, "The Colors of My Life (Part II)." Barnum necessarily loses a lot in a mere aural version, not only because Dale's stage-filling performance can't be seen, but also because the show on-stage is full of other circus performances. Still, the score is a stylistically consistent work that Dale and associates bring out well.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann