‘The Great Showman’ dazzles in family-friendly original movie musical

| December 20, 2017

Ladies and gents, this is the family-friendly musical show you’ve been waiting for. “The Greatest Showman” might not be the greatest movie on earth, but it’s a passionate, colorful and fun musical spectacular. greatest showman

“The Greatest Showman” tells a story based on the real life of the great circus showman PT Barnum. Here we see his early days as he draws inspiration from shadows and his family to follow his dreams and create something spectacular from nothing. This film’s timing for its origin story is pretty impressive considering 2017 is the year that the greatest show on Earth, Barnum’s long-running circus shuttered its tent flaps. Seeing all that was involved in Barnum’s early life is actually quite fascinating and there’s actually quite a bit this movie gets historically right. He did rise up from poor origins, his history with protesters and rioting crowds, traveling to England and meeting the queen and even bringing Jenny Lind to America are all true. Of course, as most musicals are want to do, there’s also a lot of liberties and new creations. In my brief Internet searches, I couldn’t find anything about some of the other characters featured in the film such as Efron’s investor playboy character, Phillip Carlisle.

While I loved seeing the movie’s story unfurl and the positive messages following dreams as well as loving yourself and others for who they are, I was also a little sad that there wasn’t more time to explore some plot points further. For example, Barnum displays himself as a progressive and inclusive man who sees people as people, but when his dream of being accepted by the elite society folk who used to shun him becomes a reality, he is quick to shun his circus folk. They have an initial moment of outrage and we get the great anthem “This Is Me” from this, but there’s no real follow up or challenge. Barnum doesn’t really get called out for this and just moves forward. Same things happen with some marital tension later in the film. There’s a two second outrage and then quick forgiveness. But, moving past things quickly and time jumps are pretty common in the theater version of musicals and this does seem to follow a more traditional theatrical musical format. Also, introducing tension, but moving past it quickly keeps this movie pretty light-hearted and sweet for the family audiences seeing it this holiday season.

I admit that I was a little nervous when I first saw the trailer and heard what sounded like some digital modifications and auto-tune. Also I, unlike other critics, abhorred “La La Land”, which I found unmemorable in dance and song, and I was a little nervous if those same composers, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, were actually up to the movie musical task. While they’ve composed for a beautiful and moving Broadway show with “Dear Evan Hansen”, perhaps they weren’t able to capture the same magic for me on the big screen? The world of original movie musicals is already a harsh landscape, which is a big part of why it took 7 years for “The Greatest Showman” to even make it to the big screen and it was really Hugh Jackman’s persistence that helped make this happen. And I’m glad he did.

The music of this combined with Hugh Jackman’s history in the musical theater help elevate this musical to Broadway caliber in movie form and I can’t get the songs out of my head. There are big bombastic anthems, woeful waltzes, pop-spectacular love songs and a great showdown of a duet I never knew I needed in my life: Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron bickering about whether they need to widen their points of view and see “The Other Side”. While there was some auto-tune that the trailer alluded to, for the most part, these singers can sing and the auto-tune choices seem more so because there’s a few songs that seem like they’re ready to jump to top 40 radio airwaves. Jackman and Keala Settle handily stand apart from the rest with their vocal prowess, but Efron, who had some questionable, but beloved musical background with the High Musical films also keeps up nicely. Surprisingly, my least favorite songs were the ones performed by the in-movie singer character of Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).

The choreography of this was also astounding and a treat to watch. Aside from all the visual treats of this being about a circus to begin with, there’s a lot of physically demanding stuntwork. One love song number had Zac Efron and Zendaya flying through the air in an aerial ropes dance routine. Another bar rumble number had the cast spinning and jumping from quick squats. The slower numbers with more of a walk than an actual dance were still visually stimulating and shadowplay and interesting lighting helped make this feel real yet magical simultaneously.

Though parts of the plot get a bit rushed, the cast has heart, the songs are catchy and the dancing phenomenal and the good is enough to charm the harshest critic. “The Greatest Showman” is one show not to miss.

Bethany Smith

I'm a geek; I love music, technology and grammar.

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