Exclusive: Chichester plans to revive musical Barnum in 1,400-seat tent

Chichester Festival Theatre is planning a major revival of the musical Barnum, which would be staged in a 1,400-seat tent while the south coast venue undergoes a £22 million redevelopment project.

The show, with music composed by Cy Coleman, is being lined up for a summer run in 2013, with the tent situated in the grounds of Oaklands Park in Chichester.

However, CFT executive director Alan Finch said that construction of the venue is dependent on the theatre raising the money it needs for its proposed £22 million redevelopment – called the Renew project – which it expects to be able to confirm later this year.

Finch said: “We are now at a point of being able to seriously think about whether we might be able to start Renew within this calendar year. As a second wave, we are now looking at what we might do to engage our audience during the period that we would be delivering our campaign.”

He added: “We have submitted a planning application for a 1,400-seat theatre. It being a tent, and because of Chichester’s success at producing musicals, we thought it would be a no-brainer to do Barnum.”

The rights to Barnum are owned by Cameron Mackintosh. Finch said CFT had been talking to Mackintosh about its ambitions for the production.

Plans for CFT’s temporary venue are being drawn up with Theatre Tent, a company set up by Mat Churchill, founder of Three Sixty Entertainment, which was behind Peter Pan in 2011 and this year’s production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – both performed at Kensington Gardens, London.

It is understood that CFT would be keen to bring both the musical and the tent into London following its run in Chichester.

This would mean the production follows in the footsteps of Singin’ in the Rain and Sweeney Todd, both of which are now running in the West End having originally opened in Chichester. Meanwhile, the venue’s current musical, Kiss Me Kate, will transfer to the Old Vic in London later this year.

Barnum, which has a book by Mark Bramble and lyrics by Michael Stewart, originally ran in London at the Palladium in 1981, starring Michael Crawford.

Cast and crew for CFT’s production have yet to be confirmed.

CFT’s planned redevelopment would see the 50-year-old venue benefit from extensions and a refurbished auditorium. During the redevelopment, CFT’s Minerva Theatre will continue to operate as normal.

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