The Showiest Jackman

This soundtrack just B-lined its way to my workout playlist. It’s like Glee meets Sing, starring angry lady songs and harmonies by Hugh Jackman. Be confident and don’t let the haters hate. The Greatest Showman takes the weirdest and strangest among us and turns them into a spectacle that celebrates the unique – with not a bad paycheck for the ringmaster. With songs about changing stars and having it all, this operetta is a baked mash of A Knight’s Tale (without the duels), Chicago (without the cell block), and Moulin Rouge (without the love triangle). It’s Victorian theatre camp that feels like High School Musical for grown up millennials. Did I hit my reference quota? They sing, they dance, they feel things, and we escape for a little while.

Life is rough but full of song for P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his childhood sweetheart, Charity (Michelle Williams). He’s a creative soul working an average, mundane desk job like a character in a Pixar short film. But a job is better than no job. When the company folds, Barnum returns home to his wife and daughters who tell him to be hopeful and stay positive because something spectacular will come around soon. They break into song. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Sure enough, Barnum is struck with a wave of insanity and takes out a loan he can’t afford to buy a dilapidated wax museum. Sadly, pitiful ticket sales force Barnum to find another avenue, wherein he decides to fill the museum with the strange, the exotic, the mysterious, and the alive. The Barnum Museum becomes the most talked about (and sung about) show in town, drawing those who are fascinated by the unique, those who are scared but curious, and those who’d like to cheers it with a Molotov cocktail. Barnum’s business is controversial and profitable, but the greatest showman in town doesn’t know when to stop.

Keep in mind that Hugh Jackman’s last movie was Logan. Hold onto that for a second. Now let’s introduce the excited, creative, greedy showman who inspired the word “extra”. The Greatest Showman is a classic story: a man from nothing takes New York’s most downcast citizens and gives them a stage upon which to shine. You’d think his peculiar cast would shy away from the spotlight, but Barnum’s enthusiasm and charisma is contagious. Hugh Jackman smiles from his eyes as he pulls the bearded lady on stage and stuffs an extra pillow under the fat man’s shirt. What transforms these acts of borderline cruelty into fond memories of family fun? Did I mention that Hugh Jackman smiles from his eyes?

If the Barnum show were still around, I would already have a ticket. The spectacular spectacle is over-the-top mesmerizing, even if the dance moves are a little repetitive (a waste of a So You Think You Can Dance all star) and the songs go round and round. Barnum knows how to draw a crowd and the cast knows how to make an audience smile. The story doesn’t sit still, bouncing between highs and lows like Wall Street. Barnum is obsessed with climbing the social ladder while Charity feels a decreasing role as his wife and partner. Music plays and the bartender dodges fouette turns as Barnum raises the spirits of his crew and we tap along like cymbal-banging monkeys.

Zac Efron’s also in this movie. How could I forget? The High School Musical star who used to sing and dance has matured into a grown man who sings and dances with a minor drinking problem. Efron plays Barnum’s business partner, Phillip Carlyle, but more importantly he’s in charge of stewing the romance in The Greatest Showman. Phillip has eyes for the lovely trapeze artist, Anne (Zendaya), whose “oddity” is having nutmeg-coloured skin and being quite possibly too young to have seen High School Musical. Those quirky Victorians. Anne and Phillip sneak around social circles while Barnum builds an empire on a sound stage, Charity minds the house, and the bearded Letti (Keala Settle) sets the diva loose. There’s a lot to focus on and a lot of dialogue to excavate from the musical score, but then again, that’s kind of Barnum’s style.

The Greatest Showman is a success with its diverse characters and the commitment the actors throw into their performances. It’s an energizing show. Where the film falls a little short is with its repetitive musical codas, a few lackluster sets, and more conversations in song than in dialogue. The idea that The Greatest Showman is set in the brutal Victoria days of poverty and shoe-shining doesn’t quite match the pop jazz numbers or the satin and chiffon bustiers. Overall, The Greatest Showman is good but odd. If you’re looking for a happy musical to boost your run or energize your alarm clock, look no further than this 6.5/10.

“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

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