It looks like a circus musical and sounds like a circus musical but “Barnum” – the Tony-winner that starred Jim Dale and Glenn Close on Broadway – is really a love story disguised as a circus musical.
Tuckahoe High School presents “Barnum” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a cast that has been learning to juggle for the occasion.
At rehearsal, director Catherine Gmoser brings out a huge box of juggling balls that the cast eyes warily. Some are further along in this juggling business than others.
The love story involves the self-described “Prince of Humbug” – Phineas Taylor Barnum – and his wife, Charity, known as “Chairy.”
Their relationship is proof that opposites attract, say the students who’ll play them: junior Chris Ingrao and senior Sarah Ushay.
Ingrao, 16, calls his character “the greatest showman who ever lived,” a man whose calling card was: “Barnum’s my name, miracles are my game.”
Ushay, 17, says her role is to pull back the rambunctious Barnum, “but she’s his rock who’s always there to support him, even when his dreams are crazy.”
She’s there when he dreams of a circus museum full of attractions, when he creates spectacles out of thin air – Gen. Tom Thumb “only 25 inches from toe to crown,” Joice Heth, “the world’s oldest woman,” and Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale.
And she’s there when he falls in love with Lind – and abandons her.
“She really does love him, even though he breaks her heart,” Ushay says.
“Barnum” has some toe-tapping Cy Coleman songs, with lyrics by Michael Stewart: “There Is a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute,” the up-tempo “Museum Song,” and the song that sums up the Barnums’ relationship, “The Colors of My Life.”
“You see the contrast between the two characters” in that song, Ingrao says. “She’s a very grounded person and he’s out there and big and colorful.”
“The colors of my life
Are bountiful and bold,
The purple glow of indigo,
The gleam of green and gold,
The splendor of a sunrise,
The dazzle of a flame,
The glory of a rainbow,
I’d put em all to shame.”
Chairy’s colors are not as dramatic. In a reprise, she sings:
“Your reds are much too bold.
In gold I find no worth.
I’ll fill my days with sage and brown,
The colors of the earth.
And if from by my side,
My love should roam,
The colors of my life
Will shine a quiet light
To lead him home.”
“He screws up, but she forgives him,” Ingrao says.
Playing a larger-than-life character like Barnum poses a challenge, Ingrao says.
“I’ve seen him played too big. I think the importance in Barnum is his realness, because as much as he was a showman, the show kind of shows the different sides of Barnum. As much as he was the greatest showman on earth, he was a real person.”
High above the stage in Tuckahoe’s auditorium, over the proscenium arch, in big, bold letters, is the saying: “Knowledge planted in youth giveth shade in old age.”
In 60 years, one of these actors might just remember learning to juggle, on a show that looked like a circus musical, sounded like a circus musical, but was really a love story.
Photo by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News: Chris Ingrao, 16, rehearses his lines for Tuckahoe High School’s production of “Barnum.”
Watch video interviews with Chris Ingrao as P.T. Barnum and Sarah Ushay as Chairy Barnum at www.lohud.com/localtheater
Where: Tuckahoe High School, 65 Siwanoy Blvd., Eastchester.
When: 7:30 p.m., March 13, 14, 15.
Tickets: $10; $5 students and seniors.
Call: 914-337-5376, Ext. 233.
With: Katie Byrne, Meagan Byrne, Joe Clarke, Anna Diop-Dia, Theresse Diop-Dia, Jessica DiPietro, Andrea Fufidio, Krissy Greco, Shaniqua Gunther, Becca Harbeson, Chris Ingrao, Maggie McNamara, Diana Ottomanelli, AJ Pope, Matt Ragano, Katy Raymond, Annabel Rios, Brian Robotham, John Shin, Abby Stupple, Sarah Ushay, Taylor Bonafiglio, Paula Moyano, Selemne Guevara, Phil Iannitti, Billy Wong, Marco Calce, KJ Fischer, Adam Ellar, Louis Bellantoni, Mark Sarno, Tim Moroney, Marleen Ehring, Amanda Bastone, Thomas McNamara, Mary Ehring, Elizabeth Moroney, Lauren Sears, Lara Sugatan, Nicole Barros, Conor McNamara, Justin Barros, Chris Ushay, Kelly Raho, Kaitlin Boyer, Laura DiAngelo, Danielle Cermele.