"Barnum's the name... P.T. Barnum. And I want to tell you that tonight you are going to see - bar none - every sight, wonder and miracle that name stands for!"
BARNUM traces the career of America's greatest showman from 1835 to the year he joined James A. Bailey to form The Greatest Show On Earth. We begin, as BARNUM does...
OUTSIDE THE TENT where Barnum tells us he's here to defend the "noble art of humbug," which he defines as the coat of varnish he puts on the hard facts of life ("There Is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute").
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: Barnum signs up his first attraction, Joice Heth, the oldest woman in the world. Joice turns out to be less of a draw than he'd hoped until he tries a bit of humbug and pitches her as George Washington's nurse. Joice is a big success and sings the virtues of living to be 160 ("Thank God I'm Old").
P.T. BARNUM VS. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: Barnum's wife, Chairy, wants him to settle down, run a respectable business - a clock factory, for instance - and Barnum explains that clock-making is just not the right color for him ("The Colors of My Life"). When he rushes off to close a deal to build a museum for his growing collection of attractions, Chairy reflects on her own values ("The Colors of My Life" Reprise).
CLOWNS! A cornucopia of them, tumbling into the main ring as - with Chairy to guide them - they build Barnum's American Museum ("One Brick at a Time").
STEP RIGHT UP, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, says Barnum, and let me tell you about all the wonders you're going to see inside my museum! ("Museum Song").
BARNUM VS. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, PART II: Years have gone by, and the Barnums are a bit older and a bit more successful, but their playful conflict and affection for each other endure ("I Like Your Style").
25 INCHES FROM TOE TO CROWN! Barnum's latest and most sensational attraction, General Tom Thumb, asserts that "Bigger Isn't Better."
A RESPECTABLE ATTRACTION AT LAST: Barnum presents Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, in her first American concert at Castle Garden. Jenny wins the hearts of all who hear her... Barnum included. ("Love Makes Such Fools of Us All").
THE HUMBUGGER HUMBUGGED! Barnum buys his own bill of goods, and leaves Chairy to tour the world with Jenny ("Out There").
OUT ON THE MIDWAY: At a Grand Patriotic Parade, Jenny Lind makes her first appearance in the nation's capital ("Come Follow the Band").
A SECOND MUSICAL DIVERSION - PAYING THE PIPER: Barnum realizes that Jenny Lind is not for him; he only loves his wife. He returns to Chairy and promises to live on her terms ("Black and White").
BARNUM VS. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, PART III: Many years later, Barnum is out of the humbug business, and Chairy has become seriously ill. Before she leaves him forever, they affectionately revive their lifelong quarrel ("The Colors of My Life").
BEHIND THE SCENES, BENEATH THE MAKE-UP: Barnum realizes that being a respectable businessman is not for him. Even his beloved Chairy would have agreed that he is, and will always be, "The Prince of Humbug."
THE MAIN EVENT: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH! James A. Bailey arrives on the scene, and convinces Barnum at last to "Join the Circus."
A PRINCELY FINAL ATTRACTION: The tent pole comes down, the canvas is folded, the show is loaded and ready to roll, and Mr. Phineas Taylor Barnum reflects on his glorious life ("Final Chase"/"There Is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute" Reprise).