The Greatest Showman: "This Is The Greatest Show"

Director: Michael Gracey
Writer:    Jenny Bicks
                Bill Condon
Starring: Hugh Jackman
                Michelle Williams
                Zac Efron
                Rebecca Ferguson
                Keala Settle
Rating:    ****

Release Date: Out Now

I am a musical theatre fan, and have been since I first saw Cats in London way back when I was about 10 years old (maybe even younger). The thrill of being in that audience whilst actors poured out their heart and soul through music, dance and dialogue, the energy is always electric! That is, sometimes, an energy hard to match when it comes to movie musicals. Now while I love movie musicals, I have never quite felt that same feeling that I do in a theatre, that is until The Greatest Showman was released. An electric, emotive and spell-binding movie that gripped me and moved me like no other movie musical has.

Focusing on the life and hardships of P.T. Barnum (often known as the first man of show business), The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman as the creator of the original circus, or freak show, and how his ability to dream and never give up in his dream helped him to build a life for he and his wife, Charity (Williams), but also how it came painfully close to taking everything away from him at the same time! From their first meeting as children, through marriage, their own children and betrayal, the love story between the two is beautifully performed and written, and helps emotionally glue the story together.

Keala Settle
A lot of the film follows the ‘freaks’ that Barnum finds to fill his circus and draw in the huge audiences. The Greatest Showman paints Barnum as a revolutionary that cared for and protected the people he hired, and did his best to improve their life. However, that isn’t necessarily true to what actually happened centuries ago, and is one reason why The Greatest Showman is more fantasy than factual. That isn’t necessarily a negative point, but after reading facts about the many people that Barnum abused and took advantage of, this rose-tinted view of proceedings feel almost leaves a funny taste in my mouth.

One member of this band of misfits is Lettie Lutz, played by Broadway actress Keala Settle. She provides heart, warmth and one hell of a voice, and her portrayal of the bearded lady is part wounded and part hopeful. She is a glowing light in this film, and her scene stealing performance and vocals are a wonder to watch. Also supporting Jackman’s Barnum is Zac Efron and Zendaya, as star-crossed lovers Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler. She, as a black trapeze artist and he, as a wealthy actor portray a blossoming love that is forced to overcome many oobstacles they must face in this time period, with classism and racism being the most problematic. However, frustratingly, it is never explored enough or looked at properly. This hardship gets barely two brief scenes, one involving his rich and highly racist parents. Their chemistry is electric on screen, but their struggles deserve to be explored more. Hand in hand with this fact, the reason Anne and her brother are considered freaks is never explained (looking back I assumed it is because they are people of colour) but again these darker subjects are brushed past and never really given a chance to come to the forefront.

Zac Efron & Zendaya
The Greatest Showman is clearly a passion project for Jackman, and you can literally see the joy and excitement glittering in his eyes from beginning to end. I’ve spent the last month or so watching videos online about how this movie came to be, and what an intense and lengthy process it was, I believe 8 years long from conception to release, and Hugh Jackman has been involved since the offset. Originally starting in theatre, you can see this is where Jackman is most comfortable and that comes across wonderfully on camera. Of course a lot of the sparkle comes from the musical numbers, and after religiously listening to the soundtrack for the last month; seeing the songs written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, of La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen fame, come to life with Ashley Wallen’s dynamic choreography, was spectacular and made every part of my body tingle with excitement and awe! Special mention goes of course to ‘This is Me’ an anthem of acceptance performed by the powerhouse Keala Settle.

Director Michael Gracey, makes his directorial debut with this soectacle, and he has done an outstanding job. Now while parts of the story are lacking development, I also respect that for pacing reasons, these things had to be sacrificed. The film is the closest you will get to seeing a live musical performance on the big screen, and with each drumbeat and high note hit, the film takes you on an eccentric journey full of wonder, magic and singing. The Greatest Showman really is the greatest show.

The Greatest Showman - Trailer