‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’ – P.T.Barnum
In January 2017, La La Land graced the big screen and everyone fell in love with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (if they weren’t already) and that feel-good feeling was brought back to our lives on boxing day with the release of The Greatest Showman. Eight years in the making, it is said that the long development process was due to an unwillingness by studios to take a risk on an original musical; but with an $84 million budget almost tripled and many of those original songs winning awards and landing in the top 10, it was the perfect way to end a lacklustre year.
The hero of our musical-drama is Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman) first introduced at the height of his circus career before winding back in time to just a lowly tailor’s son. The film races (in song format, of course) through Barnum’s adolescence showing his friendship and eventual marriage to high society Charity (Michelle Williams) and their underwhelming life together. After the bankruptcy of the company Barnum works for, he is spurred along to create a better life and future for his wife and two daughters thus the creation of Barnum’s American Museum, later renamed Barnum’s Circus after one particularly scathing review. Despite great success, albeit with protestors, Barnum craves more and gambles his career and his family on touring America with the “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).
By racing through the early life of Barnum, first time director Michael Gracey saves most of the film for big production numbers where his previous visual effect career truly shines through. Using the tricks of his trade, Gracey creates a stunning trapeze number (Rewrite the Stars) which could see Zendaya and Zac Efron running off to the circus in the real world too. Along with the use of CGI animals, Gracey’s artistic deceptions almost play tribute to the real P.T. Barnum, who truly did put the world’s tallest man on stilts and stuff the shirts of the fattest man.
While The Greatest Showman may not be everybody’s cup of tea, with a star spangled line up and belter after belter of lyrical goodness, Jackman, Efron and the rest of the cast perform with such passion and sincerity it’s hard not to fall under their spell and spend the next week and a half humming the tunes in your head.