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Dan's Review: "The Greatest Showman" is truly great

Dec 20, 2017 11:39PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman - © 2017 20th Century Fox.

The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox)

Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl.

Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Skylar Dunn, Keala Settle, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Daniel Everidge, Sam Humphrey, Shannon Holtzapffel, Shawn Marshall, Paul Sparks, Gayle Rankin, Ellis Rubin, Sasha "Fire Gypsy" Gaulin.

Written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon.

Directed by Michael Gracey.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

I’m so glad musicals are back on the big screen. I’m not just talking about musical theater adaptations, either. I mean, movies made as musicals first. Musicals made “screen-first” are on the rise with the popularity of movies like Moulin Rouge, La La Land (my favorite film of 2016) along with several contemporary Disney animated films (yeah, they’re musicals, people). So, when first saw a trailer for The Greatest Showman, I tempered my expectation after the runaway success of La La Land. Despite my trepidation, my concerns were misplaced as the opening scene bursts onto the screen.

The Greatest Showman is (very) loosely based on P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), the man credited with bringing sideshows into the limelight that would eventually become one of the greatest circus shows in the world. Growing up poor, Barnum falls in love with Charity (Michelle Williams) the beautiful daughter of wealthy family. Despite father’s objections, Charity marries Barnum and they set out to make a life in New York City. When Barnum’s job is eliminated, he borrows money using fake collateral and opens a museum dedicated to showcasing freaks and performers of all kinds, including Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), a bearded woman, “General Tom Thumb” (Sam Humphrey), a dwarf. Eventually, the museum expands to other acts, including trapeze artists, one of which is Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), woman of mixed race. Seeking legitimacy, Barnum lures Phillip Carlisle (Zac Efron) a playwright and discontented playboy to help raise the shows’ profile. Phillip falls in love with Anne, but shrinks away in public due to her race. As the shows gain popularity, Barnum is invited to tour Europe and England, where he meets the queen an is introduced to Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), a Swedish soprano with a beautiful voice. Barnum convinces Lind to tour the U.S. (with his marketing help) to gain even more legitimacy. Lind’s presence threatens Barnum’s marriage and the relationship with his circus performers. The “freaks” had felt a sense of belonging after being rescued by Barnum from a world that had previously ridiculed and abused them for their outward appearance. At the same time, Barnum’s detractors stir up trouble in and around his museum, leading to devastating results. Barnum must reconcile with his family and his performers if he is survive and allow the show to go on.

The Greatest Showman is a great musical, with excellent performances from an outstanding cast. Jackman anchors the ensemble with perfect voice and spot-on dancing acumen, equally shared by Efron, Zendaya and the rest of the “freaks.” One notable standout is Keala Settle as the bearded woman. Settle lends a sympathetic, yet powerful performance through her characterization and voice.

The music and lyrics in The Greatest Showman come from the Benj Pasek/Justin Paul team, the same folks who provided songs and lyrics for most of La La Land. The team hasn’t lost a step, generating powerful and beautiful contemporary music in a vintage setting.   

The Greatest Showman’s strength comes through a sense of belonging. It isn’t a movie about show business or the circus; it’s movie about the importance of family. This message is beautifully choreographed through song and dance by an incredible cast, making The Greatest Showman one of the greatest films of 2017. 


The Greatest Showman Trailer

Arts+Entertainment movies movie reviews Musicals Circus

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