Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Ellis Rubin, Skylar Dunn
Director: Michael Gracey
The versatile Hugh Jackman anchors this entertaining musical mix about the life and times of P.T. Barnum, one of the world’s greatest showmen.
P.T.Barnum was a larger-than-life individual who came from humble beginnings but who was blessed with energy and a vivid imagination. He was a visionary who rose from nothing to create a mesmerising spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. It helped change the entertainment industry in America for ever.
What started off as a New York emporium celebrating human oddities – including a fat lady with a beard (Keala Settle) and a stunning voice, and a tiny adult whom they named Tom Thumb – was transformed over time into an impressive three ring circus.
The late-19th century and circus settings give director Michael Gracey plenty of eye candy to dispense whenever his gifted players aren’t dominating the camera. His production is bold and colourful soaring melodies that stir the emotions. Oscar and Tony Award winning composers, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were responsible for “La La Land’s” musical score, built their songs on pillars of classic styles. They address serious issues of love, greed and intolerance with inspiring melodies and lyrics.
The film traces Barnum from his impoverished boyhood to financially strapped fatherhood and then fame and fortune as he sets about exploiting a group of grotesque misfits. His show stirs public outrage although not as much as an interracial couple who become start-crossed lovers.
Hugh Jackman’s proficiency in musical theatre is unquestioned. After performing in “The Boy From Oz” on Broadway and “Les Miserables” on film he has no trouble dealing with the outsize character that is P.T. Barnum. Jackman nails it at every turn.
He’s ably matched in this department by Zac Efron, as Barnum’s business partner Philip Carlyle, whose infatuation with a black trapeze artist (Zendaya) leads to a memorable aerial duet.
A surprise package is Michelle Williams as Barnum’s long-suffering wife, Charity, who can sing and dance with the best. In fact, the entire circus troupe, consisting of unknowns like Keala Settle, is a talented foundation for spectacle.
The Greatest Showman is the feel-good movie which every holiday season needs. P.T. Barnum is famous for saying there’s a sucker born every minute and he’s still right. I’m a sucker for a good movie and, while this may not be the greatest show on Earth, its close enough for me.