For the past several weeks, the Cape Fear Regional Theatre has seemed more like clown school than a theatre.     The students, the cast and ensemble of Barnum, have been busy learning how to juggle, ride unicycles, tumble and spin in the Spanish webs. But what else can be expected when you’re staging a show about the greatest showman on earth?
    Barnum, based on the life of showman P.T. Barnum, covers his life from 1835 through 1880, while he was touring America with his performers. The production combines elements of traditional musical theater with the spectacle of the circus. The characters include jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns, as well as such real-life personalities as Jenny Lind, General Tom Thumb and Susan B. Anthony.
    In order to do justice to the man, the show had to be full of the spectacle that was P.T. Barnum. So the theater is pulling out all of the stops to stage this show — one the fearless Bo Thorp, the artistic director of the CFRT, admits to always being afraid to stage.
    {mosimage}Directing, choreographing and starring as the man himself, is Dirk Lumbard. Lumbard performed the role on Broadway, and he’s bringing his unique talents to Fayetteville for this show. You’ll remember him from his stellar performance in 12 Angry Men and his staging of Singin’ in the Rain during last season. Of course, Fayetteville theatre goers have yet to see him on the tight rope, but they’ll get their chance during Barnum.
    Cary Burman, the actress cast as Jenny Lind in the show won’t be teetering on the tight rope, but she will be doing her share of tricks. Burman is not a stranger to Barnum. It was the first role she played after graduating from the conservatory. A follow-up role in Les Miserables kept her busy until she was offered the role of Lind at the CFRT.
    “It’s exciting to revisit this role,” she said. “I’m looking at her as a totally new character.”
That fresh perspective may be influenced by the talented cast that is surrounding her — a cast she terms “wonderful.”
    “The people here are just so wonderful, there’s no other way to explain it,” she said. “They have been so welcoming and accommodating. This is the best cast I can ever imagine for this show; they are all so hard working and talented.”
    Burman’s praise is also high for the show’s director. “I am just honored to share the stage with Dirk,” she said. “I just love his directing style. He is so willing to be collaborative with artists. He’s open to new ideas in everything from the music, to the blocking, and he’s willing to look at things from another angle. It is very exciting for me, as a young artist, to be able to have this kind of input and to be able to share my opinion.”
    That’s about the only constant you’ll find in the performances of Barnum. The cast is always trying to find ways to surprise the audience. “It’s a circus. It’s a spectacle and it’s all about who can top whom,” she said. “All of the tricks are going to be pulled out — especially during the finale. It’s going to be amazing.”
    Burman stresses that this is a show for the whole family. “I would sit backstage and the clowns would be on stage doing their thing, and I could hear little kids say, ‘Wow mom, I want to do that.’ And you could just see the sparkle in their eyes. It’s a very fun show.”
    “I’ve always done theatre. The first show I was in was in a theatre a lot like this one when I was 12 years old, and I did it all through high school,” explained Ken Griggs, who will be playing Barnum’s partner, Bailey.
Griggs is a well-known face on the CFRT show. He’s done about 20 shows; although the first time he tried out things didn’t work out. Medical school and his residency had put something of a dent in Griggs’ acting career, so the day he passed his boards, he went down and tried out for South Pacific. He didn’t make the cut.
    “Bo doesn’t make mistakes,” he laughingly said, adding, “For a long time, Bo introduced me as one of her singers. Over the past couple of years, she’s introduced me as one of her actors — that was a great transition.”
Griggs explained that his character helps to lead the audience through the show. Instead of going to black, and scene changes, the ringmaster comes out and gives a little speech, while circus people do circus people stuff. The play inside the circus is about Barnum, the rest is just fun.
    While Griggs admits the train-up for the show left him taking a lot of Motrin and sleeping like a baby, he said it was a wonderful experience. “No tricks were assigned to any given role, so we all learned the tricks. We all learned the webs. We all learned to juggle and to tumble, and to build pyramids. It was worse than basic training.
“It was a lot of work, but it was so incredibly fun,” he continued. “None of us had any experience with this stuff. Now we are all juggling balls, pins, knives, fire, baton twirling — it’s pretty incredible to see how everyone has grown.”
    The hardest of the tricks for Griggs to master was the unicycle. “I have to say one of my speeches on the unicycle. It only takes about 30 seconds, but I must have fallen about 500 times,” he said. “It took my three weeks to do it. My thighs are tore up, I almost bashed my head a couple of times, but a few nights ago, I was ready, so I leaned up, went across the stage, out the door and into the hallway before I fell. Now I’m a unicyclist. When it first started out, I was wondering whether I was going to get to do some cool stuff, now I’m  saying, ‘Please, I’m doing too much cool stuff.’”
    He describes the show as an “extravaganza.”
    “There’s going to be stuff on that stage that people have never seen there before. There are going to be people twirling over the audience. There’s going to be a lot going on to keep your attention.”
    When asked how he felt about the circus growing up, Griggs said, “Loved it. But I was scared of the clowns.”
Weren’t we all?
    Barnum opens Sept. 19 and runs through Oct. 5. The Champagne Opening is on Saturday, Sept. 20. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8:15 p.m. Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m. and Wednesday and Thursday shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $14 to $20. For more information, visit the theatre’s Web site at or to order tickets call the box office at 323-4233.


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