OPED: Fairfield keeps ties to Barnum, and his Festival

I remember seeing the musical “Barnum” at the St. James Theater on Broadway in the early 1980s. Jim Dale was terrific in the lead role; Glenn Close, who later made it big in Hollywood, played Barnum’s wife Charity.

Phineas Taylor Barnum, who was mayor of Bridgeport for a few years and a master showman (he was a founder of the Barnum & Bailey circus), died in 1891 and is buried in Mountain Grove Cemetery on Dewey Street in Bridgeport, just over the Fairfield line. One of Barnum’s most famous stars, “Tom Thumb,” (Charles Sherwood Stratton) is buried nearby.

Fairfield Center Stage, an environmental community theater group, will partner with The Barnum Festival and the Fairfield Museum and History Center June 27-29 to present a free outdoor musical-in-concert of “Barnum” at at Fairfield Museum Commons, 370 Beach Rd. behind Old Town Hall.

Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart’s score includes “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute,” “Join the Circus,” “The Colors of My Life,” and “Come Follow The Band.”

Audiences are encouraged to bring blankets/low-back chairs & picnics for this family-friendly summer event, which will be presented with free general admission tickets to all thanks to subsidization by individual donors and local corporate sponsors. Reserved VIP tickets are available for sale at www.fairfieldcenterstage.org.

Fairfield’s ties with the Barnum Festival go way back. Fairfield students compete each year for the honor of being the Festival King and Queen, with the winners riding in a huge float in the Festival parade.

Back in the 1960s, the Festival used to sponsor its “Ballyhoo Show” at a big field at Fairfield University. Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies one year. I remember seeing the original Four Seasons sing some of their big hits: “Rag Doll,” “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The crowds were huge, enjoying the show from their blankets spread out on the field.

This year, Martin D. Schwartz of Fairfield, the retired President and CEO of The Kennedy Center and a long-time community leader and advocate, is the 71st Ringmaster of The Barnum Festival.

So, although P.T. Barnum’s strongest local ties were in Bridgeport, his legacy lives on in Fairfield, making it quite fitting that Fairfield Center Stage will be presenting the musical “Barnum” this month.