Plenty of spectacle in Sheffield group's Barnum show

James Smith in rehearsals on the tightrope for the Manor Operatic production of Barnum

James Smith in rehearsals on the tightrope for the Manor Operatic production of Barnum

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Review: Barnum, Sheffield City Hall

It’s a marriage made in heaven -- a musical about the man who created ‘the greatest show on Earth’ and a theatre group who are always ambitious on stage.

This production by Manor Operatic was vivid and vibrant and lit up the City Hall auditorium with performers who put every ounce of effort and enthusiasm into what they did and it showed on stage.

The company also found a great leading man in James Smith.

As well as acting, singing and dancing, he juggled, performed magic tricks, did acrobatics, walked on stilts and even mastered the tightrope.

At one point he descended from the balcony on a wire.

James has an engaging and lively personality big enough to really own the part of PT Barnum, an American sideshow impresario and circus owner who loved to dream up new ideas, each bigger than the last.

The love of his life, wife Charity, is the opposite of the showman - she hates his dreams, preferring facts, and deplores her husband use of ‘humbug- or hype to sell his ideas to the public, declaring “There’s One Born Every Minute”.

However, gradually she decides to support her man, standing by and inspiring him, and the two make a formidable team.

Emma Holmes’ portrayal was confident and convincing and she has a lovely singing voice, but sadly it sometimes failed to rise above the orchestra, so the delivery of some of her songs was muted.

Manor Operatic specialise in spectacle and they really let rip with some great ideas, including a giant elephant, and loads of colour.

Everyone on stage performed circus skills and the ensemble numbers like One Brick at a Time and Join the Circus were great, especially when they spilled out into the auditorium.

The supporting cast were very strong, including Simon Hance as a whip-cracking circus master-cum-narrator.

Production and direction team Richard Bradford and Linda Kelly did a great job but there’s one question to answer: how are you going to top that?

We’ll find out at the City Hall in December with their next pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Julia Armstrong