P.T. Barnum's circus comes to Osceola High School

A high school is putting on Barnum, a musical about the circus founder's life.
Alex Sanchez, 18, walks the tight rope as P.T. Barnum, high above the cast during a dress rehearsal for Osceola High School's production of Barnum. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Alex Sanchez, 18, walks the tight rope as P.T. Barnum, high above the cast during a dress rehearsal for Osceola High School's production of Barnum.DIRK SHADD | Times

SEMINOLE — The auditorium of Osceola Fundamental High School this week ought to have three rings instead of a stage. Step right up and take a seat, as students put on a production of Barnum, the musical.

The stage will buzz with the activity of jugglers, dancers, singers, acrobats, stilt-walkers, unicycles and clowns. Drama students, every one.

Look for the tightrope strung between two black towers. Check out the zip-line. Take in the bright colors of the stage, costumes and props.

"The greatest show on earth is gracing the stage of Osceola High School for a family friendly fun time," said Heather Molfetto, play director and drama department teacher. "The show starts from the time you walk in, with face painting, balloon animals and cotton candy."

Thirty-eight students will create a dazzling spectacle on stage about the life of P.T. Barnum. Come early, because at 6 p.m. the lobby will transform, as Molfetto said, with lots of entertainment.

At 7, Barnum comes to life on stage as Alex Sanchez plays P.T., the man who authored the famous line, "There's a sucker born every minute." It's a theory Barnum not only believes but strives to prove.

"I want to portray the story as accurately as I can," said Sanchez, 18, of Seminole. "He definitely had a lot of ups and downs … and I hope I can convey the emotion and power on stage, to give him credit for all he has done."

The set looks real. It's hard to tell what's a prop and what's authentic. Is that upright piano real? What about Jumbo the elephant — is he an illusion? No one gives away secrets at a circus.

But Charity Barnum, played by senior Naomi Levine, 17, of Seminole, knows all about the magical moments at the circus and P.T. Barnum's highs and lows.

"I play Barnum's wife, the down-to-earth person who grounds him when he gets too involved in his circus world," she said. "I'm the one who pulls him back to reality and keeps him safe."

Junior Ariel Reich, 17, is the drama troupe president and thinks of herself as an old soul. Maybe that has helped her connect with the character she plays, Joice Heth, the oldest woman in the world.

"She's one of the first acts that P.T. Barnum tries to present to his community to try and get his circus-y career going, but it's a humbug," Reich said. "He faces many junctures in his journey up to the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and I'm one of them. It's been challenging to embody someone of a different age, but that's what gives the play its educational value. And it's fun to discover what you have in common with a character."

Barnum rehearsals have been going on since early April.

"It's one of those plays that's a real learning experience," said senior Cory Phelps, 18, of St. Petersburg, who plays Tom Thumb. "You have to learn to juggle, learn acrobatics. And I think the beauty of it is telling the story of someone's life through an artistic performance."

Barnum comes across as larger than life, but the play's message is simple.

"The story has the underlying meaning of staying true to what you believe in," Sanchez said. "It shows there will be obstacles to lead you away from what you want in life, but you have to stay focused on your goals."