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In the wings | with John Fleming

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In the wings: You're no sucker if you go see 'Barnum'

Asolo Repertory Theatre opened its 50th season on Saturday with a revival of Barnum, the musical about America's "Prince of Humbug." Given Sarasota's circus history, it is an appropriate choice to mark the occasion, tracing Phineas Taylor Barnum's career from his hardscrabble days promoting small-time scams like Tom Thumb to his creation of the "Greatest Show on Earth." Here's what you need to know about the production.

Great showmanship

What Barnum has going for it is the tremendously colorful staging by director Gordon Greenberg, and a strong cast headed by Brad Oscar, who virtually never leaves the stage as the impresario whose credo is summed up in the opening number, There Is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute. Oscar doesn't have much of a voice, but he has lots of chutzpah and really knows how to sell a song.

Not so great

The big problem with Barnum, originally performed on Broadway in 1980, is that it has no drama. The musical is almost entirely presentational, consisting of a series of set pieces heavy on acrobatics (featuring a couple of Cirque du Soleil performers) and razzmatazz, light on character development. About the only possible emotional hook is the relationship between Barnum and his feminist wife, Chairy (the excellent Misty Cotton), and it goes nowhere

The music

Cy Coleman was an amazingly versatile composer, writing Broadway shows that ranged from Sweet Charity (his masterpiece) to City of Angels to The Life. Any Coleman score is worth a listen, and the onstage band gives Barnum a lively performance. The Colors of My Life, a soaring duet between Barnum and Chairy, is a highlight.

The look

Barnum has a handsome set by Michael Schweikardt, delightful costumes by Alejo Vietti and terrific choreography by Joshua Rhodes. Big numbers like One Brick at a Time and Black and White are dazzling.

Should you go?

Yes, if you love jugglers, stilt walkers, trapeze artists, plate spinners and clowns. But a theater buff might start losing interest about halfway through.

Opera legend honored

Sherrill Milnes, the legendary baritone who lives in Palm Harbor, was honored on Sunday in New York by Opera News. Milnes and four other artists — singers Marilyn Horne, Renee Fleming and Natalie Dessay, and composer John Adams — received the magazine's annual awards for distinguished achievement.

Milnes, 73, was the definitive Verdi baritone of his time. He can be heard and seen at his best in a new DVD of a Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (Deutsche Grammophon). Milnes was also a fine Figaro in The Barber of Seville. As artistic adviser to Opera Tampa, he will share his thoughts on Rossini's comic masterpiece this week as the company prepares for its production of Barber next month. At 8 p.m. Thursday, he and members of the apprentice program give a presentation on the opera at Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. $12-$18. (727) 942-5605. He also holds a master class with the apprentices at 7:30 p.m. Friday at TECO Theater of the Patel Conservatory at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Free. (813) 222-1003.

What hard times?

Sarasota Opera's staging of The Barber of Seville, which had its final performance on Sunday, did good business despite the economic hard times. Three of the five performances sold out the 1,200-seat opera house. Total attendance for the run was 98.5 percent of capacity.

The Met at the movies

The latest high-definition simulcast of Metropolitan Opera productions is Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust in an innovative staging by Robert Lepage (responsible for Cirque du Soleil's Ka in Las Vegas) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Tampa Bay area theaters carrying it include Woodland Square 20 in Oldsmar, Citrus Park Mall 20 in Tampa and AMC Regency 20 in Brandon.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

IF YOU GO

'Barnum'

Runs through Dec. 20 at FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Time: two hours, 10 minutes, including intermission. $11-$58. (941) 351-8000; toll-free 1-800-361-8388; asolo.org.

In the wings: You're no sucker if you go see 'Barnum' 11/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008 5:27pm]
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