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This section is still under construction, but thanks to Marie Collins, we have something to keep you amused until such time as we get this section up properly.

 

Michael In Barnum

Barnum ran in the London Palladium from 1981-83 then after a short Manchester run in 1984-85 opened again in London the Victoria Palace in 1985-86  It was then filmed for TV.  I saw the show in the Palladium in November 1982.  It was basically the same as the video version except I think the Palladium stage was bigger, certainly in width and this meant that during the song and dance numbers there was more ground to cover.  Michael Crawford did not do either the stilt walking or the rope spin when I saw it as he learned these skills after the Palladium run.  The
atmosphere started outside in the street with stilt walkers who entertained and chatted to the audience as you passed by.  Then as you took your seat there were clowns among the audience juggling and making balloon sculptures, which they gave away so you were in the circus mood right away.

After settling down in my seat, in the centre of the front row of the circle I noticed Mrs. Barnum sitting knitting away in her box!  There was no curtain to go up but not long afterwards the stage came to life and the show was on.

My abiding memories of Michael Crawford's performance, apart altogether from the wonderful athletic feats, are his perfect timing, enormous energy and the quite extraordinary rapport he had with his audience.

I went to the show not knowing what to expect as I had only seen Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em on T.V.  By the time he had made that first spring up to kiss Mrs. Barnum in her box all thoughts of Frank Spencer were gone and I knew we were in for a real treat.  The one thing, which cannot come across in the video of Barnum, is how Michael  connected with his audience.  Right from the second he came on stage he had his audience in his grasp.  On the video he addresses a lot of comments to camera but of course live these were spoken to the audience as a whole.  I could not believe how light and swift on his feet he was when he first skipped across the stage to Joyce Hath's piano playing.  He really burned with energy all through the show.  He seemed to be enjoying every minute of it as if it was his first performance and not his 500th plus.

When Michael  sang "Colours of your life".  It was the first time I realised he could sing so sweetly.  When he fell over the wash basket during the   "I like your style" sequence I thought it was for real and wondered if he was OK.  It was not until I saw the video I realised it was part of the show.   The fumbling to get the flame from the top hat just on an exit was similarly part of the show but came over in live performance as an ad-lib.  On the other hand the night I was there he came down off the top of the clock tower very hard and struggled for a couple of minutes but he recovered and
passed it off, although he was probably still hurting.

He really made the most of the interplay with the audience when Barnum is trying to come up with a name for Jenny Lind.  Some people in the audience even shouted suggestions up to him.  There was no barrier at all between audience and stage.  Everyone was at ease and enjoying themselves.

The wire walk was an unforgettable piece of theatre.  It was breathtaking - literally.  As Barnum stepped out on to the wire everyone in the audience, me included, held their breath. After a couple of steps he nearly came off and 2,300 people almost had 2,300 simultaneous heart attacks.  As he
progressed across the wire - it seemed to take forever - we all began to turn blue, no one dared breath in case we put him off.  The silence in the theatre was palpable you could have heard a pin drop.  All you could hear of course was Michael's breathing which was very audible in the silence. We
were all willing him across, concentrating nearly as hard as he was.  When he stepped off the wire with an ecstatic flourish the theatre erupted in a huge cheer.   It was half way through the interval before I got my breath back and my heart settled down!

When Michael was changing after the "Come follow the Band" item and was saying the lines "I never mutter, I used to mutter, I once had a mother etc." one gentleman with a distinctive laugh in the stalls caught his attention and he repeated the line directly to him adding a bit about "Some mothers.... as well.  The reference to Some Mother's of course got a great laugh. There was a lot of audience reaction during the show and Michael seemed to get a great kick out of the response coming across the footlights to him.  Audience reaction in the Barnum video is more subdued
than it was live - some of it had to be filmed in an empty theatre and the applause added afterwards.  After Charity's death the spotlight lingering on her empty box was very effective. At the end of the show the standing ovation was long and loud. Michael Crawford enjoyed every minute still bouncing on and off stage thanking every area of the audience as he went.  He must have been exhausted as he had really given his all but gave no sign of tiredness.  Eventually he thanked the audience for the reception and the rest of the cast saying how hard they all worked etc.

Michael Crawford's performance as Barnum was truly a theatrical 'tour de force'.

By Marie Collins

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