Bringing both high and low culture to American audiences all-too-eager to be fooled, Phineas Taylor Barnum considered himself a showman first and foremost. He was determined to make money for himself, and was also generous to those working for him as part of the “Greatest Show on Earth.” Actor Neill Hartley, from the American Historical Theatre, sings as General Tom Thumb, portraying the most popular Barnum attraction with verve, then concluding with Thumb’s signature heel click. Barnum collected and marketed people considered freaks and oddities, like George Washington’s 161 year-old nurse and the Feejee Mermaid, but he also promoted Jenny Lind, which he felt brought him class. Quite the colorful character in his own right, Hartley’s Barnum shows you a man who knew the value of his own personality. His self-published autobiography enjoyed sales second only to the Bible in North America during the 19th century.
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