Theater Review: Keith School stages ‘Barnum’

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Having first seen Barnum at Chuck Hoenes’ Seaside Theatre in Florida with Dorothy Paige-Turner as the 106-year-old Joyce Heth, and Jim Ratloff co-starring, this production at Rockford’s Keith Country Day School was on my must-see list. Ratloff consistently brings all aspects of theater together, and Barnum is no exception.

The colorful stage set and glittering costumes are completely authentic, and the cast performs in every role possible. Ben Ross is P.T. Barnum, whose goal in life is to fill the lives of his audiences with the unbelievable, and convincing them that what they see is real. Zoe Jensen is his wife, Charity Barnum, the sensible one. Both sing beautifully, and their duets are charming.

Angela Martinez plays Joyce Heth, supposedly 106 years old, and switching roles, she becomes the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. She also plays as a part of the Circus Ensemble — showgirls, jugglers, tumblers, clowns, acrobats, brick layers, musicians, townspeople, museum patrons and The Bridgeport Pageant Choir. The costume changes are reminiscent of the old Clock Tower days.

Paul Steffan does orchestra direction, and as ringmaster is on stage constantly. Many of the students will graduate this year, but fortunately, the undergraduates have years of experience. Abby Pauley is production stage manager, and Angela Martinez manages to squeeze in another job as associate lighting designer and light board programmer. These students must be incredibly gifted to manage their lives so well.

The Rockford community is fortunate to have so many creative arts programs in their schools. Theater incorporates every aspect of the curriculum, so this is not an “extra” but an “essential.”

From the March 14-20, 2012, issue

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