"The noblest art is that of making others happy." - P.T. Barnum.
Yesterday was such a thrilling day. Alongside my girlfriend and a dear friend of ours, we took in Hugh Jackman's latest musical spectacular. It was glorious. Songs that are catchy and memorable and engaging, a story that can resonate with people everywhere and a cast that binds it all together. This is The Greatest Showman, and it's a wild ride that shouldn't be missed.
Standing by his side are Michelle Williams (Charity Barnum), Austyn Johnson (Caroline Barnum) and Cameron Seely (Helen Barnum). These three are Barnum's great joy, the reason for going into show business. And it takes the love of his family to help pull him back down from the high clouds (along with other things) and remind him why he started the circus in the first place.
Now for a musical of this scale and caliber, an all-star cast is called for. Audiences will be overjoyed to see such talented and famous faces on camera alongside Jackman.
Zac Efron, talented, funny, good-looking. He is a quint-essential Hollywood triple threat. Cutting his teeth first on High School Musical before doing other work, having him back in a musical movie is such a joy. The songs he shares with Jackman and the rest of the cast are pulse-pounding, catchy and excellent. His character Philip Carlyle, like many others, is an original creation. In this case Philip is a composite, based in part on P.T. Barnum's co-founder James A. Bailey.
Zendaya, she is a star that is going to keep on rising. As with Efron, her's is a character created for the story. As trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, joining up with Barnum's circus allows her and her brother W.D. (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) the chance to use their gifts and attempt to break away from all the racism and stigmatism of the times. Along the way, she and Philip (Efron) find themselves drawn towards one another. Under magic of the big top, they find joy and love in one another.
Keala Settle takes center stage as the troupe's bearded lady Lettie Lutz. A star on the Broadway stage, there is such an easy transition for her onto the big screen. She gets to sing a big, show-stopping number in the middle of the movie, one that describes part of the message of the production and also delivers a real pulse-pounder to audiences.
Rebecca Ferguson is European singing sensation Jenny Lind. Lind is one of the true historic figures of this movie, who was brought to America by Barnum as part of a national tour during his years as head of the circus. Like Keala, she too gets to sing her heart out with a moving song that adds its part to the story.
Additional circus cast members include Sam Humphrey as Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb), Yusaku Komori and Danial Son as conjoined twins Chang and Eng, Luciano Acuna Jr. as the Dog Boy, Natasha Liu Bordizzo as knife expert Deng Yan, and a whole host of others. A final cast member of historic note is Paul Sparks as theater critic James Bennett, whose original reviews of Barnum's shows are reprinted for the movie.
Two things that help make this such a standout movie musical are its songs and an interesting fact. The interesting fact is that this is Hugh Jackman's passion project and it took over 7 and 1/2 years of development. This is because studios were wary of bankrolling an original movie musical. So far it has surpassed expectations and has more then made back its budget at the box office.
Song wise, this entire movie is chock full of upbeat and fantastic numbers. With lyrics written by the team of Pasek and Paul (La La Land), this means that musical lovers are in for lyrical treats. Two songs in particular are "This Is Me", which was awarded 2018's Golden Globe for 'Best Original Song' and "From Now On".
This Is Me is something of the anthem of the entire movie. It is powerful and passionate. Sung by Keala Settle and the cast of the circus, its bold. Settle and her fellow performers are still shunned by the general public for being different, for looking strange. So what do they do? They sing about how they aren't going to be beaten down and how there is a place for them in the world.
From Now On is equally as powerful because its an epiphany moment for Barnum's character. After almost losing everything, he remembers why he went into show business to begin with, for his family, both of them (wife/daughters and his circus family). He sings of getting back to the way things were, being with people who are important to him and love him for just being himself, not the gilded bird that society demanded.
In many ways, while this sets out to tell a loose story of P.T. Barnum and the founding of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, it serves another purpose. It gives audiences a message of not being afraid to be yourself, of stepping out of the shadows and into the light. This is something that movie goers of all ages can latch onto amidst all the songs and fast-paced dancing.
Movie musicals are a genre that is not what it once was in Hollywood. Gone are the days of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire. In its place are productions like this one. Big, loud, well-scripted, well-casted affairs that command just as much power as their forebears. The Greatest Showman set out to be the best it could be and to give people something magical, just like P.T. Barnum set out years ago when he first started his legendary circus. This cinematic musical wonderment receives a well-deserved 4 out of 4 stars. It is not something to be missed out on by people and almost certainly going to keep enshrining itself in the hearts and minds of generations of fans as they see it come alive.