Last night, I sat in awe at the talent and exuberance of Derby Youth Musical Theatre as they portrayed the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum; a man renowned for his humbug, flim-flam and hogwash. There will be no such use of the language from me.
I was so blown away by the skills shown in this group that by the end of the performance my hands hurt with giving such deserved applause. Thirty-five actors erupted on to the stage showing circus skills such as juggling, diablo, unicycle and tight rope walking, together with singing dancing and acrobatics.
Barnum, (William Evans, 23) is on stage for almost the entire show. His interaction with the audience is in evidence from the first few lines in which he is busy exponing his noble art. An amateur performance it most certainly was not with a dexterity shown in ‘One brick at a time’; getting his tongue around listing the various objects in his museum in. ‘the Museum Song’ and singing ‘The colours of my Life’ alongside his wife, Charity, (Holly Twells, 25) as their different perspectives on life were laid out before the audience; Barnum with his Cherry Red, Sunshine Yellow and Kerry Green, as opposed to his wife, with a steadying hand, preferred the dappled shades.
Holly Twells took the stage with confidence, playing the role with emotion as befitted her character. She was an excellent choice to support William Evans. Watching the two together showed a fantastic rapport to the point that you could believe that they were husband and wife of many years standing. Her tone and manner when in the presence of Jenny Lind (Kira Coombes, 18) was that of a woman who, if not jealous, was at certainly unhappy about her husband’s relationship with the Swedish Nightingale.
Of all of Barnum’s attractions that we see on stage Joyce Heth (Niamh Abbott, 17) Jenny Lind (Kira Coombes) and General Tom Thumb (Daniel Moore, 14) show exceptional talent; Niamh plays a woman purported to be 160 years old yet sings and dances in a comedic fashion; Kira has a voice that is mature beyond her years and Daniel has the youthful mischief and sparkle in his confident performance as befits his role.
The songs and music by Cy Coleman range from humorous and bouncy to soulful and blues, which gives Katie Welsh (22) the opportunity to take the lead in a sultry rendition of ‘Black and White’.
The ensemble and supporting actors range in age from 13 to 25, so this is youth at its best. They have been skilfully directed by Peter Waters, with choreography by Caroline Green, which it has to be said, (having seen the original stage version, many years ago with Michael Crawford) is remarkably similar to the London show, which is no mean feat for this talented group undertake.
Running until 5th October, with a matinee on Saturday this show is well worth seeing. It is wonderful to see so many young people enjoying the performing arts at such a high level.
If I could give a 5*+ rating for this performance I would.
Review by Jayne Knight
Set in America in the 1800s, ‘Barnum’ follows the struggles of the famous P.T Barnum on his journey to realise his dreams of bringing his unbelievable attractions to the crowds of America...with a little splash of ‘humbug’. Spanning a time frame of 45 years, the plot is challengingly episodic in style, with the cast sometimes only given minutes of stage time to convey momentous narrative moments. Fortunately, this young and talented cast overcome this challenge through their energy, skill and talent.
Even from the pre-show action, we are treated to a display of impressive circus tricks, making it clear the immense amount of time, commitment and discipline that these young people have put into the production. Caroline Green’s choreography superbly showcases an array of dance and acrobatic ability from so many of the cast; affording much-deserved woops of delight from the captivated audience.
Holly Twells and Will Evans play Mr and Mrs Barnum; as the two lead characters they demonstrate their age and experience in the company with their exceptional presence and command of the space. Evans’ interplay with the audience shows his absolute confidence in his characterisation and he appears completely at home on the stage. The quality of their voices is displayed beautifully in the touching duet ‘I Like Your Style’.
One of the (many) comedic highlights of the piece was delivered with great aplomb by Niamh Abbott as Joice Heth with ‘Thank God I’m Old’. Other moments to note include Marcus Bush’s striking direct address as Ringmaster, Kira Coombes’ simply breath-taking operatic voice (at only 18!), and, as one of the youngest members of the cast, Daniel Moore’s thoroughly polished number ‘Bigger isn’t Better’.
Of course, the true strength of any youth theatre is in the focus and technique of the ensemble. This ensemble gave 110% to every moment they were in view; to sing well is one thing, to dance with energy and accuracy is another, but to do both of these as well as performing circus tricks is a feat that I am not sure many ‘adult’ companies could deliver!
A quality youth theatre production that is not to be missed!
Review by Terry Smith