The story of P. T. Barnum was recently brought to life in The Greatest Showman, directed by Michael Gracey. The movie follows Barnum’s journey from street urchin to ringmaster through original songs, choreography, and richly portrayed characters. Barnum himself is played by Hugh Jackman and is joined by Zac Efron as his partner, Phillip Carlisle. Throughout the movie, Barnum struggles to build his empire as he faces setbacks from his hearty ambition. He finally realizes what is most important to him, who and what all of his hard work is for and thus begins anew.
The soundtrack, produced by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, has rollicking songs such as “The Greatest Show” and “Come Alive,” sweet melodies like “A Million Dreams,” and the anthem “This Is Me.” The Greatest Showman has undoubtedly produced one of the best soundtracks of the year, and it entered 2018 with two Golden Globe nominations. This may not seem surprising because any movie showcasing a singing Hugh Jackman has nowhere to go but up, right?
Movie musicals have struggled for many years until recently, with the entrance of showstoppers like La La Land, Beauty and the Beast, and the live productions aired by N.B.C. Suddenly, musicals are making headlines again as classics are revamped and new performances are ushered to the stage. What does The Greatest Showman have to offer to this rapidly rising platform?
A true musical, the movie has a song and dance number every few minutes, emphasizing the fact that this is no mere performance; it is a show of the greatest kind. The colors in each scene pop with a vibrancy only seen in musicals, with many characters having their own colors or tones. Barnum and Carlisle are often shown in primary colors, with Barnum’s wife and daughters in soft pinks and blues, and the opera singer Jenny Lind in white. While the costumes are beautiful, the dresses worn by Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Jenny Lind, seem more like the modern styles you might see on the red carpet: beautiful, but a little too much.
Musicals are elaborate productions, with the sets playing as large a part as the actors themselves. Movie musicals take it even farther, with sound-stages and props that stagger the imagination. The legendary Gene Kelly worked on many such stages, and his hits Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris have lived on as some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time. The Greatest Showman follows the same pattern with its homes, theaters, and the circus itself visualized to perfection. Near the beginning of the movie, Barnum and his wife are dancing on the rooftop of their apartment building, and the hanging sheets move with them, flowing to the motions of the dancers themselves. This set acted as a visual for their love and hope.
The story of The Greatest Showman could have been fleshed out a bit more, but there is only so much one can do in an hour and forty-five minutes. Many of the characters had subplots that were hinted at or slightly developed, and I would have loved to know more if given the opportunity. Despite this, the story is one of redemption which many families can enjoy and sing along with together.
As I generally enjoy musicals, I had been anticipating this movie for months in advance and was not disappointed when I finally had the chance to view the film. The music soars, the characters captivate, and the dancing stirs the viewer to move likewise. The Greatest Showman offers a stunning performance entrancing its audiences around the world, and I anticipate the movie will continue to captivate viewers for many years to come.