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North High to present Musical ‘Barnum’ on stage this weekend

By Staff | Apr 10, 2019

The circus is coming to town this weekend, and it will be the students at North Fort Myers High School who will bring you the greatest show on earth.

The school’s Center for Arts and Media will present “Barnum” the musical on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and a Sunday matinee at 2. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students.

Janelle Laux, the school’s new drama teacher replacing Michelle Whitener, who retired last year, said it has been a hectic week of rehearsing, but expects to have everything down by Thursday’s opening.

“This is the true story of Phineas Barnum starting the circus. It’s the same story as ‘The Greatest Showman’ but different songs and this is the original musical,” said Laux, who produced shows at Lehigh Senior for nine years before coming to North Fort Myers High..

Barnum talks about his sideshow acts and opened a museum in New York. When the museum burned down, he started a traveling show and meets James A. Bailey to start the circus we know today.

“Barnum” promises to be the most ambitious production the school has put on to date. It will be complete with actual circus performances such as trapeze and juggling, and the stage will be made to look like an actual ring, with areas cut out for a trampoline. The musicians will be in the back of the stage as opposed to the front

Rachel Jenney, stage manager, is there to make sure everything stays on cue, as she has the previous two years with “Mary Poppins” and “Rock of Ages.”

“I have to write down the cues and call them from the booth. There’s a lot to it,” said Jenney, who has done stage management here and at the Alliance for the Arts. “This is one of the most difficult ones because there’s a lot of stuff with trapezes and safety.”

The leads from last year’s production of “Mary Poppins” will be the leads this time as well. Michael Johnson plays Phineas T. Barnum, with Katies Means in the role of Chairy, his wife. Isabelle Blanco will play Jenny Lind, Morgan Bruewer plays Joice Heth, and Tom Thumb will be played by Alex Leeds.

Johnson said playing Barnum has been his greatest challenge to date.

“I had to learn a lot of skills and it was more tasking than anything I have done. I have to juggle and walk a tightrope and walk on stilts,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be like last year when I was in the harness for ‘Mary Poppins.'”

Means said it will be fun playing with Johnson once again, as they have become one of the best acting duos the school has seen.

“We started acting together in sixth grade and have been stage partners ever since. It will be fun finishing out my senior year with him,” Means said. “Chairy is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had because she is so simple and very complex. I like difficult roles.”

Laux said the biggest change is that the costumes were all sewn by the students, who also designed and built the set and will do all the lighting.

“Things we didn’t do in the past are being bumped up this year and allowing the students to have more freedom,” Laux said. “We have a costume design class which created every costume in the show. The students built the stage and have put a lot of work into it.”

All the singing numbers, of course, have been handled by Gwen Gregg, who is doing her last musical before she retires.

“There is so much to see and hear and there are so many surprises. The kids are so talented and the audience is going to be blown away,” Gregg said. “Sara Johnson has worked with the kids and she is on top of things.”