In the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, and shortly before being overshadowed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Greatest Showman opened December 8th, 2017. The musical had the potential to draw a large crowd, with jaunty musical numbers, a familiar, all-star cast, and advertisement through every avenue that rivaled P.T. Barnum himself. With a box office gross of $13.2 million, the movie could have done better, but the children’s crowd over winter break is forcing that number up significantly.
Director Michael Gracey’s first feature film follows the story of the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum (more widely known as P.T. Barnum). This “biopic” musical shows P.T. Barnum’s rough start: humble beginning all the way to huge success. Through imagination and creativity, Barnum is able to start the now household name: The Barnum Circus. Hard work and a few tricks and illusions bring the Circus to success, but in his victory Barnum forgets his roots, and the people who supported him when he had nothing. A triumphant tale of the birth of show business and the spectacle that later became the Barnum and Baliey’s Circus, The Greatest Showman is a crowd-pleaser.
Set in the 1850’s-60’s in New York City, The Greatest Showman portrays P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) as a true visionary, a philanthropist bringing smiles to the frowning faces of anyone with a dime. Barnum is also displayed as a true family man, wanting nothing more than to bring happiness and comfort to the lives of his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams) and his two daughters Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely). When Barnum gets laid off from his office job, he starts a museum that goes on to become a full-blown entertainment spectacular. With a rich cast of interesting characters true to the Barnum Circus such as Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) the singing bearded lady with the magical voice, General Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), and Anne and W.D. Wheeler (Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the high flying acrobats, it was hard not to impress audiences, but Barnum wanted more.
As Barnum struggled to set himself apart from any old sideshow act, he met Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), a playwright from money who felt out of place among the uppity society he was a part of. Barnum approached Carlyle, who eventually decided to become partners with Barnum after seeing the show and what it meant to the performers and audiences alike. When Carlyle meets Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) they strike up a tenuous romance. Strained due to the racial prejudice of the time period, they struggled to find their place together. Zac Efron and Zendaya deliver outstanding performances both theatrically and vocally with their duet “Rewrite the Stars”.
Barnum’s ability to recognize talent where others might not made his show stunning. The heavy themes of not judging a book by its cover, being proud of who you are and what makes you different, and standing with your friends no matter how it reflects upon you, are evident throughout the film. The music, while perhaps a little processed for the 1850’s, will please today’s audiences. With a captivating, if a little rushed, storyline and Hugh Jackman’s natural talent and charisma, The Greatest Showman, regardless of how true it was to the actual story of P.T. Barnum, was a sensational experience that will satisfy moviegoers of all ages.