'Barnum' fulfills dream


POSTED: Friday, September 04, 2009

Many actors have a dream role they hope to play. For some it is a character from Shakespeare; for others, a benchmark role from a classic 20th-century script. Rob Duval has distinguished himself with memorable performances in both genres on local stages, but on Thursday he opens in a dream-come-true role that he has wanted to do for 25 years: the title role in Army Community Theatre's season-opening production of “;Barnum.”;

“;It's certainly a fun role and a challenging one,”; Duval said last month before an evening rehearsal in ACT's cavernous Richardson Theatre.

“;I fell in love with the musical in high school. When we would get ready to do shows, somebody would bring in a new cassette or a CD and play a show while we put our makeup on. This is one that I remember listening to in 1984 and just falling in love with this music.”;

“;Barnum”; has not been produced in Hawaii by any of the major community theater groups in recent memory, so observers who complain about the “;same old musicals”; being staged here every few years have something different to look forward to. The musical follows the life and times of one of 19th-century America's biggest entrepreneurs from 1835 through 1888 and the creation of the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.





        » Where: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter

» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; continues 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 26


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


» Info: 438-4480 or 438-5230, or


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




“;Barnum”; ran for two years on Broadway in the early 1980s.

“;It's a difficult show (to do),”; Duval continued. “;It's technically difficult, and you need acrobats, you need jugglers and you need people with skills that you don't find everywhere, like stilt-walking, tumbling ... and you also need a great opera singer (in the role of Jenny Lind) who can really belt out the opera notes, as well as a Barnum and a Mrs. Barnum.”;

Duval's leading lady, Hawaii stage veteran Stephanie Conching, says she fell in love with the show by way of YouTube.

“;The Barnums sing a song about the colors of their life and how the colors for each person are different shades. For Barnum, he's vivid vibrant colors. Mrs. Barnum is very earth tones and down to earth. ... I found lots of people singing it on YouTube, and I thought that it was beautiful, so it's the music that sold me on the show.”;

Duval adds that “;almost everything in the show is fact,”; although he notes that Mark Bramble's script takes a few liberties with the chronology of events—and that Barnum had three wives rather than one.

The actor says that if Barnum were alive today, he'd be an executive producer putting up “;a lot of money to do amazing shows—and then make 10 times that amount.”;

“;He really was a producer,”; Duval said. “;He presented people to the world and made a fortune—and he actually gave a lot of money back. He gave a lot of money to Tufts University—an entire building—so he was very philanthropic.

“;I think a lot of things in this production will surprise people,”; Duval said. “;I think, walking in, you get the 'wow factor' just from our set. ... There are stunts to look for, a beautiful love story and the amazing events in this man's life that many people don't know about.”;


Famed promoter a 'Renaissance man'

The term “;Renaissance man”; could have been coined for Phineas Taylor Barnum. Although best known today as the founder of what eventually became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (aka “;The Greatest Show on Earth”;), he was also at various times a newspaper publisher, politician, author, lecturer, real-estate developer, social reformer and philanthropist.

Barnum was also quite possibly the first American to become a millionaire as a showman and promoter of public entertainment.

He promoted everything from theatrical productions to cultural exhibits to “;freak shows.”;

Barnum was not above using bogus curiosities such as the “;Feejee mermaid”; (the mummified remains of a monkey grafted onto the tail of a large fish) to draw crowds of curiosity seekers to his five-story museum in New York City, but he also introduced Swedish opera star Jenny Lind, one of the greatest vocalists of the 19th century, to American audiences in 1850—guaranteeing her the astronomical amount of $150,000 plus all expenses paid in advance for the tour. It was a tremendous gamble, but Barnum is said to have made back four times his total investment.

“;Freak shows”; were big business in the 19th century. Barnum presented the original “;Siamese Twins”; Chang and Eng Bunker, “;General”; Tom Thumb, and several other well-known “;curiosities”; of the era. Thumb made so much money that he was able to come to the master showman's aid when Barnum overreached himself and suffered crippling financial reverses.

Barnum also embraced new technology. He used limelight—a form of pre-electric lighting developed in the 1830s—to illuminate the exterior of his five-story museum/entertainment palace in the center of New York City, an immense building that lasted for nearly a quarter of a century.

In the late 1850s he opened the first public aquarium in America.

When Barnum went into the circus business in the 1870s, he became the first owner to buy and fit out an entire train for his circus to move from city to city. At a time when his competitors still toured America by wagon over unpaved, rutted roads, the investment gave him a significant edge.

By the way, his iconic quote—“;There's a sucker born every minute”;—apparently originated with another promoter and was later attributed to Barnum by a third party who was trying to discredit him. — J.B.