It’s hard to take on both Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Jumanji in the box office, but a little musical about the life and legacy of P.T. Barnum (you now, founder of Barnum and Bailey Circus, which we’re all guilty of going to as kids) did just that, armed with gorgeous costumes, a killer cast, and stellar musical numbers. Perfect for fans of Moulin Rouge and Big Fish, if you haven’t given this quirky and colorful musical a chance, you might want to rethink your choices before it leaves the big screen for good.
The Greatest Showman tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the man who established America’s circus scene back in the 1800s. Portrayed as a man who celebrates the differences in humanity, it tells a very fairy tale-like version of Barnum’s circus complete with bearded ladies, dwarfs, tattooed men, giants as well as colorful costumes, a killer cast, and stellar musical numbers. It’s a simple enough story, however with enough dance sequences and musical numbers, memorable characters, and a stellar cast, the simple story turns into a spectacle for all ages. Many have criticized the film for glorifying the work of Barnum, who has sometimes been considered a con man. However, if you are looking for an enjoyable story, lovable characters, and a few hours where you can escape into movie magic, you will find The Greatest Showman to be both show stopping and heartwarming.
Most things that Hugh Jackman touch are gold, if not at least a guaranteed good time. From Wolverine to Jean Valjean, this man is a chameleon and he manages to play a Barnum that it charismatic and real at the same time. Jackman is the back bone of the film and he caries that weight flawlessly. Singing and dancing his way through both good times and bad, he manages to take viewers on a dreamy adventure where we are more than willing to follow. Of course, Jackman isn’t the only name you might recognize in this line up. Zac Efron (you know, Troy Bolton from High School Musical but seriously all grown up) plays Phillip Carlyle, a young playwright who reluctantly becomes Barnum’s partner. Michelle Williams plays Charity Hallett Barnum, Zendaya plays the young trapeze artist, Anne, and Rebecca Ferguson portrays Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale.
One of the takeaway performances for me, goes to Keala Settle who played Lettie Lutz, Barnum’s Bearded Lady. Her story is that of many of the other members of Barnum’s circus: an outcast her whole life, hidden away in the shadows because everyone in her life was just as ashamed of her as she, herself, was… until she joined the circus and found her true family. Her story of metamorphosis is touching and resounds with many viewers who have always felt like outcasts in life. She finds her place and her people. Her anthem, This Is Me, is such a show stopper, it won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song and has also been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The Musical Numbers
You can’t have a musical without, well, musical numbers and you can expect a tale about P.T. Barnum to be just as showy and dramatic as his circus. The film opens with The Greatest Show, Jackman’s movements perfectly coordinated with the stomping feet of an excited audience. The song reveals the colorful cast of characters of Barnum’s circus before we even get to meet them and it sets the pace for the rest of the film. And every musical number is just as exciting as the last as each character seems to have their special moment to shine from heartbroken ballads to fist pumping anthems.
For me, the songs that included dance numbers were the ones that stole the show. The Greatest Show was flashy and colorful with dancing horses, elephants, flame throwers, trapeze artists flying through the air, and Barnum at the center of it all, watching his dream unfold. The Other Side showcased Jackman and Efron as they negotiate potentially being partners. Despite the fact that it was just the two of them and a bartender, the coordination of their movements (whether they were dancing or not), was just as impressive as watching Efron and Zendaya sing their tragic love song, Rewrite the Stars, as they’re zooming through the air on the trapeze. Their love story is one of the cornerstones of the story and watching the two of them torture themselves over finding a way to be together is both haunting and beautiful. The final big show stopper in the show, From Now On, showcased Jackman alongside his makeshift family in the circus as they come to him and remind him why he had started the circus in the first place. It’s a triumphant celebration as everyone dances and rejoices, despite their hardships.
For as colorful and memorable the characters and songs were, it would seem that the one thing that seemed to be lacking the most was the actual story of the film. Sometimes the case when it comes to musicals, the sections between the songs don’t seem quite as thought out as the musical numbers. The Greatest Showman seems to suffer from this same problem.
The story itself is simple: a young boy, growing up in poverty rises up to start out on a new business venture, finding success for his family at first only to be distracted by the things that come with fame and fortune. There were moments that were almost too predictable. When they played out, viewers are certainly not surprised or worried about what could possibly happen. We know this is the sort of story where Barnum will find his way back to what really matters in his life and everyone will get to live happily ever after.
The Greatest Showman may tell an historically inaccurate story but it sure is a fun one. With an all-star cast led by Hugh Jackman, there is not a weak link in the chain. It’s a guaranteed good time filled with colorful costumes, memorable characters, and a playlist of songs with will get your feet tapping so hard, you’ll want to get up and dance alongside everyone else. It’s a celebration of humanity and our differences and one that you will not want to miss out on.
+Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of P.T. Barnum.
+The acting and performances from every cast member from the A list actors to the kids and even the smaller bit parts.
+The songs. Seriously, try not to listen to the soundtrack on repeat.
+The costumes were bright and colorful… just like the circus.
+The showstopping musical numbers.
-Bad CGI was distracting at times.
-Weak story line.
-Bad lip syncing at certain moments.
What did you think of The Greatest Showman? Did you find it enjoyable or were you turned off by the sugar coating of the circus industry? What was your favorite song? What cast member would you want to have catch you on the trapeze? Let us know below!
Amanda Woomer-Limpert is a writer/editor for the Geekiverse and officially a Keala Settle fan girl. She’s come up with her own choreography for This Is Me and has no shame.
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