First, the positives. The Producers remains a great deal of fun in its story of mad Max and nebbishy Leo (Daniel Greene and Charles McKenzie), who team up to deliberately produce the worst play ever in order to reap a windfall in a tax loss. Considering the size of the cast, the physical demands on the performers and the need for swift scene changes and a ton of often ornate costumes, Venice Theatre manages quite a feat of staging.
Charles McKenzie and Heather Kopp in Venice Theatre’s The Producers.
There’s something of the same story with the Asolo’s Barnum, a big, bright, relentlessly enthusiastic show with a hard-working cast and strong production values. Everything is there: the grand opening number (There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute) that sets up the premise of the show with P.T. Barnum’s brand of “humbug”; the stilt-walking, plate-spinning, juggling, tightrope walking and more from a skilled, well-drilled cadre of performers; the sheer spectacle of nearly 50 years of American history compressed into two hours. Once again, the choreographer (Joshua Rhodes) and the director (Gordon Greenberg) have done an amazing job of staging the show’s numbers, especially in Act II’s Come Follow the Band drum tag and the irresistible Join the Circus sequence that sums up the play’s spirit.
Brad Oscar and cast members in the Asolo Rep’s Barnum.
Plus, Barnum benefits from the endearing appeal of Nathaniel Braga as Tom Thumb and the fine voice and pretty looks of Renee Brna as Swedish nightingale Jenny Lind. Brad Oscar certainly presents the outer brio and bluster of Barnum, with Misty Cotton as his more practical wife, Charity, providing the necessary foil.