Bright pink cotton candy served at concessions immediately ensured a praise-filled review for Marvin Ridge. As if this sweet treat were not enough, it was followed by a similarly sweet performance of “Barnum,” the tale of P. T. Barnum’s humble beginnings and journey to eventual circus life.
The two leads, senior Jeremy Appel as Phineas Taylor Barnum and sophomore Ellen Bailey as Chairy Barnum, were the crown jewels of the show: Appel gave a triple-threat, high-energy embodiment of the title role, and Bailey had a powerful voice and superb sass. Together, they had charming and cheeky chemistry, and they shone in a heart-melting rendition of “I Like Your Style.”
The ensemble’s energy and interest was regularly mirrored by the audience. Background performers seemed a tad bored during the first scene but were actively engaged and having fun by the “Museum Song.” Whenever the energy seemed to lull, it received a boost from Appel. Ryan Wentz’s splendid performance as Tom Thumb also provided a blast of entertainment.
The production successfully juggled an entertaining performance and circus magic. The majority of the cast members equipped themselves with quirky talents, from juggling to stilt-walking. Several visual elements added a fantastical flavor, from a dozen beautifully painted, complex flats to a life-size, puppet-like elephant.
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The designs, onstage band, elaborate costumes and cheerleading and gymnastics stunts were a communal collaboration by the departments at Marvin Ridge, yielding a three-ring circus of visual, musical and athletic arts. Director Winston Sims believes “the circus isn’t just about one thing; it’s all these things that come together.” This idea was clear in the production concept; the show felt like a mashing together of talents, instead of something cohesive but monotonous.
You could forgive the lighting, which seemed an afterthought, and the sets, which were a bit sparse. What the show lacked technically it made up for with performers unfazed by unreliable microphones; witty comics such as junior Calvin Shanahan found their moments to stand out.
Like P.T. Barnum, the Marvin Ridge theatre department used given circumstances, budget and individuals to craft the best entertainment it could, creating a consistent world of magic and fun. Now I’m craving a visit to the real Greatest Show on Earth.