P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) has always envisioned a better life for his family. Struggling to survive after losing his job, he comes up with an idea that will put him front and center for the birth of show business. The new musical film The Greatest Showman gives us a glimpse of that birth and Barnum’s drive to provide a better life for his family.
Barnum believes people would pay to see a variety of oddities in wax form. But when the wax melts away, a chance encounter with a little person, coupled with the memory of a stranger’s kindness, spawns an idea, and the first iteration of the circus is born. With Barnum as the ringmaster, it’s time for show business to occupy the center ring.
The idea of bringing together every unique person who was labeled a misfit or different entices a wide variety of individuals to come to Barnum’s new venture. Barnum, who has done it all for his wife and children, wants to give his family the life they deserve and wants to show the world that everyone has value.
Random dialogue is interspersed from time to time, but most of the story is told with catchy musical numbers. It’s what we would expect in a film with this pedigree. The lyricists (Justin Paul and Benj Pasek) behind the spectacular film La La Land are back for more and provide us with tunes that you will have stuck in your head for weeks and years to come.
Jackman takes on the lead role as the colorful Barnum with zest and vigor. Make no mistake, he is the center of the story, and he delivers. Easily jaunting from scene to scene and effortlessly carrying out the choreographed numbers, Jackman leads a cast of extremely talented musical stars. But he is far from alone in this role.
Alongside Jackman is the musical veteran Zac Efron as the well-to-do Phillip Carlyle. You can tell Efron is at home singing, dancing and making the audience smile. Efron and Jackman dominate the screen time which, although satisfying, left me feeling a bit empty. There are amazingly talented individuals like Zendaya and Keala Settle who just don’t get enough of a chance to show off their wares. Settle does get a couple chances to belt out some memorable tunes, but Zendaya is almost forgotten, despite shining at every moment she graces the screen.
And the lesser characters who inhabit much of the background do not get much explanation of their backstories. We are left with cobbling together any outside knowledge on who they are and what might be their history.
Let’s be real for a minute though — none of this matters in a musical. My desire for more of the minor characters, and maybe even a touch more on the running time, means nothing if the music doesn’t work. Here, the music works and will leave you singing the songs like “This Is Me” and “The Greatest Show,” among others, long after the final credits roll. I sang them incessantly around my family for days after my viewing of the film despite my musical abilities being limited at best.
I came away from The Greatest Showman filled with hope, joy and delight. And that is enough for me to truly enjoy this toe-tapping good time. I may not be an expert singer, but I do know the show must go on, and this show definitely does long after the lights come on.
Paul’s Grade: B
The Greatest Showman
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron
Director: Michael Gracey
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