The Greatest Showman was first announced in 2009 with Hugh Jackman signed on for the title role and a mere eight years later we finally get to see this circus-themed masterpiece. It is said that much of the delay was due in part to 20th Century Fox’s nervousness about creating an original musical. In recent years, whether on Broadway or the big screen, finding an original musical not based on any other franchise has been rare. Fortunately, last year’s La La Land was a huge hit and proved that the Hollywood musical is not dead. Sadly, though, had The Greatest Showman been released earlier, it might have saved Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus which performed its last show on May 21st of this year after 146 years of show business. It feels a bit hollow watching a film where the cast sings “This is the Greatest Show” and celebrates the man who started it all when there is not longer a Bailey circus to go to. With that said, there is no reason to miss out on THIS show.
The Greatest Showman is loosely based on the real life of P.T. Barnum. While the man served as the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was a member of the House of Representatives and an author (among other things), most of us only know him as the creator of the American circus and this film smartly focuses only on the latter.
This is a rags-to-riches story where one man rises from obscurity to becoming one of the most well-known men of all time. Making his feature film directing debut here is Australian filmmaker Michael Gracey combining a well-written story with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who also worked on La La Land). Getting Jackman to play the role of Barnum was brilliant. Can you possibly think of anyone better for this role? Though some film-goers only know Jackman as Wolverine from the X-Men films, this guy has a number of Broadway credits to his name. (Yes, he can sing and dance without the aid of large claws.)
Early on we learn that Barnum fell in love with Charity Hallet (Michelle Williams) despite the fact that she was from a family of “haves” and he from the “have nots.” While Barnum promised Charity’s father that someday he would provide the life that she grew accustomed to, Charity apparently didn’t care about money or class. Still, it was his desire to prove to others (and himself) that he was worthy of the attention he received. Like many other success stories, his dedication drove him to bigger and bigger achievements which came close to costing his marriage.
Down the road of this journey, Barnum discovered unique and different people whom he thought should be celebrated rather than stared at even if that meant making the fat man appear to be heavier and the tall man to be taller than they really were. Without really trying, he created a community for his sideshow troupe. Instead of being outcasts, they now had a family.
However, many people still viewed P.T. Barnum’s shows as one big, embarrassing spectacle. He knew that he needed to find one class act to give his name some credibility. That came when he found the soprano singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). The songbird helped to elevate Barnum’s status but also distracted him from his home life and his new-found circus friends.
Though much of The Greatest Showman is based on real-life people and events, two main characters in the movie did not exist in real life. In the movie, Barnum partners with Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) a sophisticated man of the theatre who doesn’t really enjoy it. In this story, he falls for Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) an aerialist performer, despite their class and race differences. This is a great love story (with one fantastic love song to accompany them) albeit brief and sadly unrealistic.
From General Tom Thumb to the bearded lady, this is one troupe worth seeing. The music and lyrics are fresh, clever and the songs will get stuck in your head. Seamus McGarvey’s direction of photography and Ellen Mirojnick’s costumes makes this film a visual treat that you’ll want to experience in the theater before rushing out and buying the soundtrack. This is a family-friendly picture as well with little to no harsh language. It also shows the importance of family, working hard for what you believe in and presents strong messages about accepting and respecting people just as they are.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.