By Bradley Griffith
I’m not a musical kind of guy, not at all. The only musical I recall ever enjoying is the latest film version of “Les Miserables” starring Hugh Jackson. Because “The Greatest Showman” also starred Hugh Jackman, I thought I would give it a whirl. I’m glad I did.
Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman), also known as P.T. Barnum, was the son of a tailor who worked for the Hallett family in the early 1800s. Even though a tailor worked for the higher classes, a tailor and his son were considered low class, which posed a problem for Barnum when he became infatuated with Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams). Still, Barnum never gave up and eventually married Charity, even though he never received the approval of her parents.
Barnum is determined to make something of himself to show the Halletts that he is worthy of their daughter. After losing his job as a shipping clerk he steals the deeds to several sunken ships and uses them as collateral for a loan from the bank. With that money he opens Barnum’s American Museum in Manhattan. He initially showcased various wax models of oddities until he realized that he needed living “freaks” to draw in crowds.
Barnum hires Lettie Lutz, a.k.a the bearded lady (Keala Settle), the diminutive Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), and a pair of trapeze artists that includes Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Barnum re-named the venture Barnum’s Circus and people began flocking to the shows en masse. The shows were soon sold out and Barnum became wealthy and famous. But he was still not accepted by the Hallets or other members of high society.
Barnum thinks he can remedy this situation by hiring famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) for a tour in America. Known as the Swedish Nightingale, Lind is certain to gain Barnum respect from the upper echelon of society.
I was worried about whether I would enjoy the parts of the story being told through song. It turns out that I was worried for no reason. The songs were catchy and, in some instances, they conveyed the emotions of the characters in ways that simple dialog or acting never could. The songs convey the ups and downs of Barnum and the others who orbit him like he was the sun. The music allows you to become more invested in the movie as it progresses.
When actors turn to song to tell their story there is always a moment just before they begin singing where you may cringe a little. You naturally wonder if they can actually sing. Thankfully, all the actors in “The Greatest Showman” can sing. Of the supporting cast, Keala Settle stood out as a great singer. Loren Allred, singing the part of Jenny Lind for Rebecca Ferguson, also delivered a standout performance with the song “Never Enough.”
But, regardless of the quality of the supporting cast, “The Greatest Showman” would rise or fall based on the quality of the performance by Hugh Jackman. Thankfully, Jackman is one of the elite actors in Hollywood today. He was great in both the speaking and singing parts in the movie. Was Jackman as spectacular here as he was in “Les Miserables?” Maybe not, but it’s still a performance worth seeing.
While “The Greatest Showman” is based on the life and times of P.T. Barnum, I don’t believe everything in the film is accurate when it comes to the true story of Barnum’s life. From what I have read he wasn’t exactly the sweetheart he is portrayed to be in “The Greatest Showman.” Still, this is a movie that focuses on mostly the positive aspects of his life and is all the better for doing so.
In a world where the box office is dominated by superhero movies and Star Wars sequels and spinoffs (and rightly so), “The Greatest Showman” is a welcome diversion. “The Greatest Showman” is now available for home rental.
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Rated PG for thematic elements, including a brawl.