“Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for!” From the songwriters of 2016’s Oscar-award winning film “La La Land” comes an exciting musical chronicling an idealized version of the story of America’s first circus.
“The Greatest Showman” follows P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) as he struggles to provide for his family in early 20th century America. A man with an intense imagination, he comes up with the idea to create a show that no one has ever seen before, filled with people of different shapes, sizes, colors, and talents. Some of these people include a bearded woman (Keala Settle), an African American brother-sister acrobat team (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Zendaya), and a horse-back riding little person (Sam Humphrey). He also makes a partnership with the aristocratic Philip Carlisle (Zac Efron), who helps him build his circus and gain the attention of the whole world.
The film is filled with good performances, but the best by far is Hugh Jackman’s earnest portrayal of P.T. Barnum. He is able to create an endearing, imaginative character who you still want to root for even when he makes mistakes. The energy Jackman brings to the role helps to give the movie the lighthearted feel that makes it so enjoyable.
My fear going into this movie was that it would turn out to be something like “La La Land,” which was critically acclaimed, but whose musical sequences felt forced and out of place. They could’ve been easily removed, and the plot and feel of the film wouldn’t have changed that much. This was not the case with “The Greatest Showman.” From the film’s grand opening with “The Greatest Show,” to the circus troupe’s heartfelt performance of “This Is Me,” this movie is completely driven by its musical numbers. The singing and dancing is wildly entertaining, and fulfills its purpose of moving the story forward through song. They have some truly creative numbers, too– the “Rewrite the Stars” sequence performed by Zac Efron and Zendaya is done as the two flip and spin through the air on trapeze wires, giving the whole scene a really unique feel.
The main problem audiences have been having with “The Greatest Showman” is its historical inaccuracies. The film is definitely an idealized version of what really happened in the first circus, painting P.T. Barnum as a guardian angel for the performers, when it is well known that in reality he was every bit as discriminatory and racist as the rest of society, even buying some of the performers as slaves. It also greatly changed his origins to make him more relatable– in reality, Mr. Barnum was 60 when he came up with the idea of a circus, and already a musical producer. I understand how such an untrue depiction can upset people, and if you can’t see past it, I can’t blame you. However, I think it should be remembered that this is based on a true story, not a true story itself. Its creators acknowledge that they’ve taken creative liberties, and I think the final product is enjoyable enough to deserve attention.
On a whole, I really liked it. Yes, it is a very different story than what really happened, but it’s an entertaining story. The characters are endearing, the story is interesting, and the music is fantastic– in my opinion this is far and away a better musical than “La La Land.” It may not be a true story, and it may not be a life changingly inspirational film, but I left the theater happy and humming tunes from the movie. As P.T. Barnum himself said, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”