I imagine many will be taking their partners and/or kids to see this movie under slight protest. Like them, I went to The Greatest Showman mainly for my wife, who is an unabashed musical fan girl. Don’t get me wrong I’m not at all adverse to one myself if they can strike the right tone, but I got the sense from the trailers for this movie that it would either be great, or awful. There are plenty of reviews around that will lead you to believe it’s the latter, but this is not one of those.
The Greatest Showman is a passion project of Hugh Jackman, who plays circus and ‘show business’ pioneer P.T. Barnum. The story is (extremely) loosely based on Barnum, so don’t expect to get an in-depth biographical look at the man at all. If that’s what you’re after then 20 minutes on his Wikipedia page will be more for you. What you will get though, is a visually beautiful movie, with extraordinary songs, stunning choreography and excellent performances that, if your able to leave your cynicism at home, will provide the perfect amount of cheese and unbridled joy.
The story follows Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) journey from poor tailors son to entertainer extraordinaire. Zac Efron plays Phillip Carlyle, a high society playwright stuck in a rut that Barnum brings on board to give his show of oddities some credibility. Zendaya is Anne Wheeler, a talented trapeze artist recruited to the show whom suffers her own persecution due to the colour of her skin. The themes are of overcoming unsurmountable odds, acceptance for all, empowerment, but also of the trappings of never being satisfied. As even when Barnum seemingly has everything he’s ever wanted, he craves more, becoming obsessive about renowned singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). This pushes his relationships with his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams), their two daughters Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely), and the cast of his original show, to breaking point.
Perhaps the greatest triumph of this original musical is down to the involvement of songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Largely unknown until recently, the duo shot to fame in 2016 through their award winning involvement as lyricists on smash hit La La Land. For Greatest Showman, they have written some incredible songs that are undoubtedly the spine of the movie. For musicals there is often one stand-out song, that becomes synonymous with audiences. Honestly, any one of the songs in Greatest Showman could be that. The trailers heavily feature title track The Greatest Show and This Is Me, but any of them could have been used. A Million Dreams, partially performed beautifully by the movies young cast, and Never Enough, sung by American Voice finalist Loren Allred, are two personal highlights. Pasek and Paul’s next project will be Disney’s live-action Aladdin, so we can likely look forward to being spoiled with more new classics.
Plaudits must also be given to first time director Michael Gracey. Every song in The Greatest Showman comes with it’s own elaborate set pieces and intricate choreography, so directing would have been no mean feat, but Gracey pulls it off largely successfully. Sure, there maybe isn’t time for much character development at times, and the mood can switch from sombre to joyous in a matter of seconds during a song, but that’s all part of the charm of a great musical, and if you can sit back and embrace the ride you won’t be sorry.
Like all musicals, The Greatest Showman won’t be for everyone. It’s cheesy and a bit ridiculous at times, but if you let it in, I promise you’ll be uplifted. With all the negativity in the world right now, if you can truly embrace it, you’ll be treated to a couple of hours of pure escapism. Leave your cynicism at home, enter the cinema with an open mind and heart, and let The Greatest Showman wash over you. Don’t mind me, I’ll just be playing the soundtrack through for the twentieth time.