California School of the Arts

The Greatest Showman: Bringing the Origin of the Circus to the Screen


P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) comes alive with the oddities in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.
Photo Credit – Niko Tavernise

The Greatest Showman, directed by Michael Gracey and written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, brings the magic of the old circus back to life. The oddities of life, the dazzling spectacles of a spectrum of people brought together in the first ever circus-ring to astound the world. With Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, this big-screen musical tells the story of how a penniless tailor’s son stretched the boundaries of imagination, astonishing the expectations of his audience. Alongside P.T. Barnum is Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) as a stage actor, Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), an acrobat and trapeze artist, and a circus of other acts.

Banj Pasek and Justin Paul, the creators of the award-winning songs from La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen, created the musical numbers for The Greatest Showman. With Ryan Lewis (of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis) creating the hip-hop influenced, driving rhythm track for the first number, the voices, choreography, and lighting were beautifully implemented to take the audience back to classic three-ring circuses under big striped tents. With unique choreography in a bar between Jackman and Efron to dances that feel and fly limitlessly on the screen, the film brings out a palette of color and wonder for the audience.

Part of the movie features P.T. Barnum and Charity as children, whose acting and singing were both incredible. The cast definitely met my expectations and their voices flowed well with the mood of the story. The journey of the “Oddities” (circus performers) as they struggled to be accepted all throughout life brought out the importance of the circus. P.T. Barnum unknowingly taught them that the circus was a place of celebration of diversity while he was only trying to pursue his dreams.

The film brought Mr. Barnum through his Hero’s Journey, from rags to riches, to the struggles of never having enough. The character dynamic between P.T. Barnum and his wife, Charity worked well for the story. The two relationships between Barnum and his wife as well as Phillip with Anne created an incredible array of scenes, from exploring an abandoned mansion filled with wonder to dancing among the stars with trapeze stunts.


P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams) share an enchanting dance on a New York rooftop in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise
Philip (Zac Efron) is entranced by Anne’s (Zendaya) trapeze artistry in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise