The Greatest Movie

'The Greatest Showman' captivates audiences with show-stopping music, intriguing history and groundbreaking tales of acceptance

By on January 23, 2018

Ladies and gents, this is the movie you’ve waited for. “The Greatest Showman” is a remarkable story about acceptance and persistence. Loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum, inventor of the circus and Connecticut native, this movie musical never slows down. The beginning grabs ahold of you and keeps you engaged even as the credits are rolling at the end.

Helping his father who works as a tailor, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) falls in love at an early age with a girl, Charity (Michelle Williams), whose family is much wealthier than his. Charity’s father continuously undermines Barnum because of his lower class status, saying matter-of-factly that he’s not good enough for his daughter. A major storyline follows Barnum’s efforts to prove his worth and to give Charity and their daughters the life that they deserve; the life he always wanted.

He creates a never-before-seen show that features individuals others would consider “freaks.” Barnum ropes in people who have been shamed and ridiculed their whole lives because of their physical appearance, such as General Tom Thumb and the Bearded Lady. He gives them a voice and for once people aren’t turning away from looking at them –they’re cheering for them.

However, no applause or sold out show ever seems to be enough for Barnum.

Jackman’s portrayal of Barnum is spectacular. He is larger than life with his friendly face and exquisite grace in every scene. However, the film does ignore some of the real life Barnum’s true characteristics and life events in an effort to paint a better light on the character as a loving and accepting family man. So if you go to see it, don’t expect to fully know what kind of person Barnum really was.

In the film, he accepts individuals into his show from all walks of life including those that are of a different race, but in reality, he bought a slave to jumpstart his career in the entertainment industry.

Barnum bought Joice Heth, a blind slave-woman in 1835, according to History.com. He exploited her by telling audiences that she was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington and made her tell stories about him. When she died, Barnum held a public autopsy and charged admission, revealing she was only really 80 years old, according to The Guardian. Barnum was known to exaggerate, a characteristic that was depicted in the movie. However, his exaggerations about Heth were not included in the storyline.

Jackman, however, exceeds all expectations in the role that was written for the film. From Wolverine to Barnum, when it comes to acting, Jackman is a chameleon. He shows the determination of his character and vulnerability of how all Barnum wanted out of life was to be accepted, too. And after Jackman’s role as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” back in 2012, who didn’t want to hear his silky voice in the theaters again?

One of the most talked about features of this movie is Zac Efron’s portrayal of fictional character, Phillip Carlyle, a playwright and eventual investor in Barnum’s show. The “High School Musical” and “Hairspray” alum did not disappoint when it came to this new role.

A privileged, whiskey-drinking playwright, Carlyle is reluctant at first to go into business with Barnum, because he doesn’t want to be “one of the clowns” as he sings in their duet “The Other Side.” Eventually he does join the circus with Barnum and you see his sensitive side as he falls in love with Anne (Zendaya) an African-American trapeze artist. Their forbidden love is another oddity overcome in the story of acceptance.

From the songwriters of “La La Land,” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “The Greatest Showman” songs are arguably more effective than those in “La La Land.” Though set in the 1800s, the music of “The Greatest Showman” is very modern with showstopper after showstopper. However, “La La Land,” takes place in a modern time period, and is offset with vintage sounding tunes. The songs in “La La Land” don’t necessarily make you download the soundtrack immediately after watching, unlike “The Greatest Showman.” These pop anthems in “The Greatest Showman” are soulful and powerful, heightening the emotions the characters are feeling in each scene.

One example is after Barnum’s latest act “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind (Sarah Ferguson), a beautiful singer and person, performs the ballad “Never Enough” (performed by Loren Allred). This is an effort to make his name even bigger and appease a local critic and, of course, the closed-minded. He begins to shut out his act of oddities – not allowing them to sit in certain seats and keeping them out of a more elegant party.

Lennie Lutz, the Bearded Lady (Keala Settle), leads the song “This is Me” about strength, self-love and acceptance.

“When the sharpest wanna cut me down /I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out,” she sings. “I am brave, I am bruised/ I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.”

Not only is Settle’s voice incredible in this song, but also its driving beat makes her character’s strength even more evident to viewers. They don’t just hear or see the character build from this person in the shadows to someone who’s not going to hide anymore – they feel it too. “This is Me” won Best Original Song at the Golden Globes this year on Jan. 7. The soundtrack was ranked No. 1 on Billboard for the past two weeks, according to the New York Times.

“The Greatest Showman” is now playing in theaters and nominated for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscar’s for “This is Me,” according to Billboard.

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

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About Lindsay Pytel

Associate Arts and Life Editor