Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

I have looked forward to seeing this movie since viewing a trailer for it this past summer. The Greatest Showman, based on the extraordinary and imaginative life of P.T. Barnum, is a musical. The 11 featured songs were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Academy Award winning lyricists of one of my favorite films from last year, La La Land. With such musical talent on board, I knew before the opening number that I was going to love this movie.

Daughter Elissa and grandson Dayan met me tonight at the theater, braving cold temps in order to be entertained. And entertained, we were.

The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Keala Settle and Sam Humphrey. This musical drama, directed by Michael Gracey, carries a PG rating and has a run time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Phineas Barnum (Jackman) comes from a poor family. As a young adult, having struggled to survive, much less thrive, he marries his childhood sweetheart, Charity (Williams). Phin doesn’t have much materially, but he has big dreams. He doesn’t just want to find his place in the world, he wants to create his own world.

When he loses his job, Phin comes up with a creative plan, fresh from his imagination. With the support and encouragement of his wife and two young daughters, Caroline (Johnson) and Helen (Seely), Barnum secures a loan to purchase a somewhat seedy museum of curiosities and oddities.

Ticket sales are not what the dreamer had envisioned, or needs to pay his bills, until he begins to put together a troupe of real life curiosities. His cast of performers includes the bearded woman, Lettie (Settle), who has a beautiful voice and a just as beautiful heart, Tom Thumb (Humphrey), the little General who is 25 inches tall, and the amazing trapeze artist, Anne (Zendaya).

Phin’s show, dubbed a circus by New York’s top journalist, becomes a success as people flock to see these unusual performers. Far from being ridiculed, or disdained, the members of the diverse group find themselves being applauded, cheered, and appreciated, for the first time in their lives.

Encouraged by his growing fame, Barnum hires an apprentice, Phillip Carlyle (Efron). A playwright from a wealthy family, Carlyle has connections to New York’s elite. Barnum hopes to attract a higher paying audience.

Barnum perhaps takes his plans to create the Greatest Show on Earth too far when he brings Jenny Lind (Ferguson) to the US. Touted as the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny is considered the greatest singer Europe has known. Barnum convinces her to join him on a tour across the United States, bringing both of them greater fame and riches.

But at what cost do all of P.T. Barnum’s dreams come true? As he becomes the Greatest Showman, what affect does that have on his personal life, his family and his dedicated group of unique performers, left under the direction of Carlyle?

This was a fun film, with an exceptional musical score. The choreography was amazing as well. I smiled at the opening song and dance, and that smile remained on my face throughout the musical.

The movie was inspired by P.T. Barnum’s incredible imagination, and isn’t considered historical, although many of the characters represent actual people associated with the showman. The music is contemporary and uplifting, intended to convey how ahead of his time Barnum was.

A photo of the real P.T. Barnum and one of his performers, Tom Thumb.

What I loved about this film, beyond the songs and the dance routines, was the underlying message that all humanity matters. Barnum created a family when he brought together his diverse troupe. He showcased the best about people, not just their peculiarities, celebrating their unique qualities.

We enjoyed The Greatest Showman. Elissa turned to Dayan and me as the credits rolled and wondered why I didn’t make her take singing and dancing lessons, as a child. I could relate! I left the theater happy and feeling like I could dance my way across the parking lot. I didn’t. But oh, I wanted to! Perhaps it’s not too late for any of us to incorporate more singing, more dancing, more creating out of our imaginations, into our lives.

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