Written and performed by Shelley Cooper, JENNY LIND PRESENTS P.T. BARNUM makes its world premiere at the Whitefire Theatre. An official selection of Solofest 2023, this tale of the most famous opera singer of the nineteenth century spins a yarn which seems fictional – and yet is fact. P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman on Earth, sees in Jenny Lind the perfect draw for his thrill-seeking audiences who are always looking for something different and special.
Jenny Lind is arguably the most famous opera singer of her time. Audiences have fallen at her feet, and she is renowned far and wide in Europe. In fact, Hans Christian Anderson, the famed Danish writer of fairy tales, has been begging her to marry him for years. But now Lind has had her share of fame and just wants to found a music school in Sweden and teach the younger generation of artists. But a problem has developed. She simply doesn’t have the cash to quit her “day job” and follow her dream. Enter P.T Barnum, the man of the moment in the Americas. Barnum makes Lind an offer which she simply cannot refuse. He will pay her enough to support her music school if she will just come and sing for American audiences.
The year is 1850, and Lind has just completed an exhausting tour of multiple cities, towns, and select rural settings across the Wild West. In fact, she has begun to worry that her constant performances might have an adverse effect on her voice. While Barnum has amassed extravagant wealth through Lind’s efforts, she feels exploited and used – almost like the black slave women she has seen in the American South. At the same time, she harbors some guilt about not speaking out against slavery. Now she has decided to take control of her own career. When she confronts Barnum, sparks will surely fly.
JENNY LIND PRESENTS P.T. BARNUM is a fascinating look at one of the first singing stars” in the U.S. Shelley Cooper does an excellent job of portraying the rather naïve Swedish songbird as she begins to realize that Barnum is probably the greatest faker in the land. Helmed by director Dr. Michelle J. Crouch, the solo program features brief mentions of various interesting points in Lind’s life and a number of songs which were reportedly part of Lind’s repertoire in the middle of the nineteenth century. Both Cooper and Crouch hale from Augustana College in Illinois, where they are colleagues and friends. Cooper’s accompanist is Ron Barnett, Director of Music and Sacred Arts at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale.
The audience should be aware that this is a short program (barely an hour) without an intermission. In fact, this reviewer wished that Cooper had delved more deeply into Lind’s life, both to flesh out the opera singer’s personality and to make the show a bit longer and more involved. Yet one cannot fault Cooper’s charming and very professional voice, around which the story is built. Interested audience members might enjoy a video in which Cooper sings an aria closely identified with Jenny Lind.
JENNY LIND PRESENTS P.T. BARNUM runs through February, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays. The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. Tickets are $25. For information and reservations, go online.