'The Greatest Showman' Brings Songs to Your Heart and Tears to Your Eyes
Step right up for the greatest movie on earth! OK, maybe not… but it’s one of the best of the year and a most excellent family film for all time.
As you may have guessed, this musical drama is inspired by the legend and ambitions of America’s O.G. pop-culture impresario, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), aka The Greatest Showman. While only partially historically correct, The Greatest Showman is nevertheless a joyous rags-to-riches tale – Barnum is a brash, outspoken dreamer who rose from nothing to prove that anything you can envision is indeed possible.
The show gets underway immediately with a wildly colorful and entertaining song and dance number (The Greatest Show) under the big top – complete with elephants and acrobats, clowns and equine ballet, and overall spectacle. Then we pull back into Barnum’s bleak childhood, years before. He grew up poor but plucky, and was always a romantic – he’s in love with his wealthy neighbor, Charity (Michelle Williams). Eventually, the two marry (in spite of protests from her snobbish dad), start a family, and follow their dreams.
Barnum’s American Museum on Broadway in New York City – jam-packed with dioramas, scary scientific instruments, bizarre artifacts, a menagerie of exotic animals, a marine aquarium, theatrical performances, and an array of living “attractions” (General Tom Thumb, Siamese twins Chang and Eng, giants, and bearded ladies, to name just a few) – provides the main backdrop for the story, and it’s a dazzling place to be. Here’s where Barnum takes on a partner, Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and where forbidden love blooms. (Don’t worry; the “forbidden love” is all very rated G… though the film itself is rated PG for its depictions of mild violence and some drinking.)
First and foremost, The Greatest Showman is a musical reverie – an ode to dreams – not a biopic. At its heart is Barnum’s conviction that the drudgery of everyday life is something we can all leave behind and enter into a realm of wonder, curiosity, and the joy of being wonderfully different and unique. That’s the strongest, and most important, lesson for the little ones: Be who you are and be happy about it.
The story is the creation of screenwriter Jenny Bick (whose Barbie movie is in preproduction), but Bill Condon – renowned for his stupendous screen adaptations of Chicago and Dreamgirls – added his immense gifts in the creation of the musical aspects. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from La La Land also contributed. While the scenes are set in the mid-1800s, the music is completely contemporary with a mix of pop, hip-hop, and ballads.
Jackman is well-known for his singing and dancing chops – he’s performed on Broadway numerous times – and he doesn’t disappoint here. He’s just one of those eternally likable guys, no matter what kind of role he’s playing. But that quality is especially essential here, since Barnum’s powers of persuasion remain legendary. He gets everyone to “step right up” quite easily, but getting them to stay there proves more difficult. When the chips are down, Jackman really makes us enjoy rooting for the hero.
One of the characters, “The Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who was the Lady Gaga of her day, is dubbed. The unseen singer we hear delivering the knockout tune “Never Enough” is The Voice star Loren Allred, and she does have the pipes! Perhaps the most poignant singer and a truly lovable character is The Bearded Lady, Lettie Lutz, who’s played by Broadway star Keala Settle. Settle’s performance of the centerpiece song “This is Me” is absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful. The writer, Paul, says, “It was very inspired by current pop songs, something you might hear from Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson or Pink – women with power and authority who can deliver a message in a contemporary way.” (Your kids are definitely going to want this soundtrack!)
Aside from the ever-amazing Jackman and a brilliant ensemble cast, this film works so well because it’s clearly made with love. Director Michael Gracey personally relates to Barnum’s belief in attempting to squeeze as much excitement out of life as possible. “I always say that to me one of the saddest moments in any child’s life is when they learn the word ‘impossible.’ Barnum’s story is about not limiting your imagination, about using what’s in your head to create new worlds – and that’s also what directors do.”
The charming message of the movie is that everyone, no matter how maligned or invisible, has a story worthy of a world-class premiere in which they are the star. That sentiment is brought home, quite handily, when Barnum is rounding up the so-called Oddities for his new revue, and Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey) asks, “But what if they laugh at me?” Barnum quips, “Well, they’re laughing at you anyway, might as well get paid for it.” Then he realizes the gravity of the question, and tells the young man that this is his chance to celebrate uniqueness and to show folks that although the book’s cover may be small, the story inside is vaster than the universe.
If you’re looking for something fun, inspiring, and just plain “feel good” to wrap up the year, you absolutely must take the kiddos to see The Greatest Showman on the big screen.
Tags : film movies musicals