Craycroft charms in 'Barnum'


POSTED: Monday, September 14, 2009

An energetic troupe of circus performers and a break-out performance by Jaime Blu Craycroft as “;Swedish Nightingale”; Jenny Lind are key assets in Army Community Theatre's season-opening production of “;Barnum.”; Director Grace Bell and choreographer Philip Amer Kelley use ensemble performances by groups of tumblers, jugglers and clowns to both cover set changes and represent much of the action in this stylized take on the life and times of 19th-century impresario P. T. Barnum.

Craycroft takes the production in a dramatically different direction with her first appearance as Lind and owns the show moments later in singing “;Love Makes Such Fools of Us All.”; The number is a pivotal moment in the show. Here's why:

Lind is the fourth of the great showman's acts we meet in “;Barnum.”; The first, Joice Heth, billed as being more then 160 years old and having cared for the newborn George Washington more than a century prior, is obviously a “;humbug”; (fake or fraud). “;General”; Tom Thumb and Jumbo the Elephant were natural “;curiosities”;—Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton, was apparently afflicted by a malfunctioning pituitary gland; Jumbo was the world's largest known elephant.





        » Where: Army Community Theatre, Fort Shafter

» When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through Sept. 26


» Cost: $15 and $20, $12 and $15 for children


» Call: 438-4480 or 438-5230


» On the Net: www.armytheatre.com


» Note: Valid vehicle registration and proof of insurance required for admittance to base. Individual photo ID for driver and each passenger might also be required.




Lind was neither a humbug nor a freak of nature. The American public had never heard of her prior to Barnum's unprecedented ad campaign promoting her American tour, but she is remembered as one of the greatest vocalists of the 19th century.

Director Bell emphasizes the distinction. Lynn Kinoshita Nakamoto plays Heth with an exuberance that underscores the impossible billing, and set designer Dennis Hassan's oversize Jumbo backdrop helps “;shrink”; Jeff Tabisola's Thumb character a bit (although casting a talented child as Thumb would have downsized the character further).

In contrast, Craycroft's pure vocal talent is as impressive at ACT as the real Lind must have been singing for American audiences 159 years ago. Craycroft also does a good job with dialogue that resembles Swedish (”;Barnum”; musical director Peter Rucci distinguishes himself with a quick appearance as Lind's Swedish-speaking conductor).

Playwright Mark Bramble's book takes several liberties in making “;Barnum”; a love story about a colorful visionary and a practical, down-to-earth woman. For instance, Barnum's museum burned down 15 years after he brought Lind to America, not before. And Barnum did not leave his wife for Lind. Thumb, meanwhile, had retired a wealthy man before Barnum bought Jumbo in 1882.

History aside, Stephanie Conching (Charity Barnum) is charming throughout as Barnum's gentle, practical and understanding wife. “;Colors of My Life,”; the couple's love theme, touches the heart both times it occurs in the score.

It must be noted that “;Barnum”; star Rob Duval's ability as a singer does not match his well-documented skills as a dramatic actor—at least not as of opening night on Thursday. However, he delivers a well-rounded portrayal of Barnum as a good man who lived for the excitement of staging his next big show but who did so knowing that much of his success came at the cost of his wife's happiness.