There’s something magical about musicals. They inspire. We sit back and let music tell a story that invokes a multitude of emotions within us as actors deliver the goods with larger than life flourishes. From ballads to big song and dance numbers, musicals touch us in ways than no other movies can do.
It was only a year ago when Benj Pasek and Justin Paul made our spirits soar with their catchy Oscar winning lyrics and score for La La Land. They went on to win the Tony Award for Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, and now they’re helping us end an otherwise troubled year with another glitzy and magical musical extravaganza, with no less than eleven new songs for The Greatest Showman.
Based on the story of P.T. Barnum the man who founded the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the film is far more than a play-by-play biopic of Barnum and his life, his rise and fall. The Greatest Showman aims to be a old-school musical in every best sense of the word. The catchiest songs move the story along, while every melody, every lyric and every exuberant dance movement unite to advance the story.
Hugh Jackman plays Barnum. Can he sing? Like an angel. Can he dance? Like a dream. Can he charm? Like he’s finessing our pants off. Jackman is naturally is a born entertainer. Seek out clips of Jackman in The Boy From Oz and watch how he takes command of the stage. Throw in Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and Keala Settle joining forces to give it all they’ve got to bring each musical number to life, for a film that will leave you toe-tapping and filled with cheer. Welcome to the Greatest Showman.
We first meet Barnum as the young son of a poor tailor. He meets the daughter of his dad’s well-to-do client. Charity steals his heart before he leaves home and together the two spend their formative years exchanging sweet letters before Barnum returns years later to ask for her hand in marriage.
Barnum is a dreamer, he has an imagination, he has dreams and ambitions. Above all he’s determined to provide for his wife and two young daughters and give them everything they want. Adult Charity is played by Michelle Williams who gives a solid performance as a devoted wife whose faith never falters in her husband as he puts his circus show together. Although her peak musical moment is a slow number, the song Tightrope showcases William’s singing to its best advantage.
After an early failed attempt at running a museum, Barnum sets out to put together a show unlike any other the world has seen before. He embarks on a quest to gather unique individuals who for one reason or another have been those ostracized by society, in the belief that the it’s their differences that make them fascinating. Along the way he finds the world’s heaviest man, the bearded lady, a daring trapeze artist, and a diminutive person known as Tom Thumb. Which his boundless charm and persuasion Barnum convinces them one by one to join The Greatest Show.
The musical numbers sweep you up along the way, with lyrics like :
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
Keala Settle belts out the empowering showstopping song that earned a Golden Globe nomination. When the cast joins in, we see the gleam of newfound confidence that had been locked deep within until Barnum helped them shine. This is the kind of song that could well become an anthem for outsiders everywhere. If The Greatest Showman were a stage show, this would be the climax of Act One. That unwavering, gravity-defying moment that leaves you wanting more.
Zac Efron plays a theatrical producer who Barnum manages to lure into their fold. Efron is a pure joy to watch as he falls for Anne Wheeler, a trapeze artist played by Zendaya. Their duet, Rewrite The Stars explores the depths of their then forbidden love and gives us a chance to see how far Efron has grown as a performer and actor since his High School Musical days. Their chemistry has you rooting for the pair as Phillip risks being alienated from his family for courting a black performer. They’re both terrific.
Australian director Michael Gracey along with co-writers Bill Condon and Jenny Bicks take a story of young lovers who conquer all odds to reach for the stars and makes all the familiar beats feel fresh again. The fates and fortunes of the great showman rise and fall and rise again. Through it all and leading the way, Jackman takes front and center, giving us a wonderful Broadway-worthy performance, buoyantly supported by a vivacious cast who are up for anything.
Paul and Pasek give us a dazzling array of songs — enough toe-tapping, sing-along numbers to keeping us smiling for days. “This Is Me” and “From Now On” are just two of the instant classics that only require one listen before they’re added to our internal jukebox, in eternal rotation.
Jackman, Efron, Zendaya, Keala Settle each give us performances that deliver an essential dose of good cheer this holiday season. Enter the newest show in town where Michael Gracey, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, production designer Nathan Crowley, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, and choreographer Ashley Wallen serve up a delightful, magical extravaganza.
Allow yourself to escape as Barnum’s imagination comes alive with The Greatest Showman. Barnum coined the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Perhaps I was born at one of those minutes. The film is just what I needed to satisfy my musical soul this holiday season. The soundtrack will be played and has been played almost daily ever since I received it. Sometimes the most important thing a musicals can do is transport us to a happy place so for a moment we can forget about all that is wrong with the world. With its enduring themes of love, acceptance, and ambition, The Greatest Showman is fulfills its mission as the jubilant film a lot of us need this holiday season.