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Monday, July 27, 2009

BARNUM (1986)



Very few of these BBC live stage-to-video musical transfers work as well as this. This is basically Joe Layton’s original B’way staging which re-imagines the life of Phineas Barnum as a one-ring perpetual motion circus. The lead role needs an astonishingly gifted performer and Michael Crawford fills the bill down to his toes. While he misses some of the dark corners Jim Dale brought to his B’way assumption, Crawford is a far better vocalist and his sunnier ‘take’ perfectly fits his lanky form & sandy-haired coloring. It’s one of the greatest perfs ever caught on tape and fully worthy of the marvelous Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart score which sounds wonderful in Hershy Kay’s faux circus band colorings. The show is even better than you may recall, with a first act finale (a gasp-inducing live tight-rope walk from Crawford) and an immensely touching farewell from Barnum’s wife that are paradigmatic examples of just what magic B’way musicals are capable of. Terry Hughes ' video direction is barely adequate and the video transfer (from a PAL source?) needs an upgrade, but don’t let that stop you. This one’s a gem. Cameron Macintosh is trying to get a new London staging up. What a role this would be for Hugh Jackman.

NOTE: So, ten days after posting this, Hugh Jackman is announced as signing up to play P.T. Barnum in an original Fox musical. Presumably the Coleman/Stewart score is tied up elsewhere. What a sad waste. By the way, they are also trying for Anne Hathaway to play Jenny Lind when she's perfect for Charity, Barnum's staid wife. Ah, Hollywood. Even when they get it right, they get it wrong.

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