'Barnum' to take center stage at Kean Theatre this month

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Zack Weismann's booming baritone voice has reverberated through Paragon Studios in McCandless for months, as he prepares for his next role.

Director Deborah Loffredi Metzger said a performer must have quite a presence to play the title role in the musical “Barnum,” which will be on stage at 7:30 p.m. May 23 and 24 at the Kean Theatre in Richland Township.

Weismann, 17, of McCandless can relate to the role after being somewhat of a troublemaker at Paragon Studios in the first half of his nine years of class time there. He used to bring toys to play with, and had a short attention span.

“It was just kid things, and I probably frustrated (Loffredi Metzger) at times,” Weismann said. “It's pretty cool now that I can go back to my younger days and bring back those features.”

“Barnum” was inspired by the life of 19th-century impresario P.T. Barnum, best known today for being the Barnum in what now is the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

Weismann said he can relate to Barnum's mischievousness. The flamboyant showman displays what he says is a 161-year-old woman who was George Washington's nurse and has a museum full of curiosities, such as “The FeeJee Mermaid” in New York City.

“I think that (Barnum) knows what people are like, what they want to hear, and he knows that people are suckers,” Weismann said. “As he says, ‘There's a sucker born every minute.'”

Cast members had to learn how to juggle for the show, which has a circus motif.

“We've been training for a while on juggling and have had some successes already, so we're juggling a lot of balls and scarfs for the show,” Loffredi Metzger said.

Performers such as ensemble member Bethany Tonarelli, who has been with Paragon Studios for eight years, have taken on the challenge.

“We were all a little worried when we found out we had to juggle,” said Tonarelli, 15, of Ross Township.

“I was worried because I had to try juggling in gym once and struggled in that except for the scarfs. Luckily, I only have one scene where I have to juggle, but we have all taken a few minutes out of every rehearsal to practice for months.”

Ensemble member Megan Fox started Paragon Studios classes in September after taking classes with Act One Theatre School through the eighth grade.

“Barnum” is her first Paragon Studios production.

She said that the show often has a lot of people doing tricks at once, and keeping everyone coordinated is a challenge.

“When we first started, it was so difficult to place everyone, and I think we've definitely figured that out for the whole show,” Fox, 15, of Wexford said. “We also have younger kids, as young as 3 and 4, who will be part of the show, so we've all worked really hard with supporting each other and helping each other.”

Fox performs feats such as cartwheels at varying points in the show. Others do more difficult acrobatics.

“All of the different things we have to do and synchronize as a big group makes it a really unique musical,” Fox said. “I feel like everyone makes each other better, and that's why we're in great shape and will only get better.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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