As the entertainment industry is drowning in its own turmoil and scandals, it is movies like The Greatest Showman that reminds us why we work in this industry. The ability to bring to life a story that makes you fall in love, can take you on a journey in someone else’s shoes, and remind you that you should hold on to the million dreams that keep you awake. Director Michael Gracey spent the last eight years perfecting his vision, finding the right lyricists, piecing together the eclectic and talented cast, and hiring the right choreographer that gave the film the magical flare of the golden age of musicals back to the big screen.
Gracey introduces the audience to P.T. Barnum, beginning with his childhood struggles to starting the circus, but the story is more than one man and his life. The Greatest Showman brings you into Barnum’s world that transcends into a dream, shows you all the people that he affected, lives he intertwined, the loyalty he created, and the essence of forging your own path and how it is never easy. In musicals, it is the songs that carry a large part of the story. The original soundtrack was written by Oscar and Tony Award-Winning duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of critically acclaimed La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen. Pasek and Paul developed an 11-song soundtrack that brings dramatic drums, staccato horns, melodic pianos, and lyrics that pull at your heartstrings. In the early scenes, you are introduced to P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) starting as young children into adults as they daydream through a song called A Million Dreams. It is through the start of this song you see the bigger than life vision that P.T. Barnum has for his family and the career he longs for:
“I close my eyes and I can see
The world that’s waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one’s been before
But it feels like home”
One of the lines Jackman says is “no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.” This song sets the tone for the rest of the film by bringing you into an adventure of something that never existed and formed a show that made the freaks the extraordinary. The bearded-lady (Keala Settle) character does exactly that. She makes you feel for someone that has been shamed and made fun of her entire life. We all have those moments where we feel like we aren’t worthy, or that you just don’t fit into the status quo:
“I am not a stranger to the dark
Hideaway, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Runaway, they say
No one’ll love you as you are”
At some point, we finally just stop caring what everyone else thinks and realize that being just who you are is enough. That doesn’t happen for everyone. In the end, it is about your support system. The people that have your back. One of the beautiful parts of this story is the loyalty you witness through the mistakes and betrayals that Barnum makes as a human. The greed that takes over his better judgment. The love and hope of change from his family, his partner (Phillip Carlyle), and the circus people who truly forgive his betrayals and mistakes. The faith that we can have for humanity when one person believes that someone is special just as they are. Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) and Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), two star-crossed lovers kept apart because of status and race, but feel that they are a perfect fit. In the song Rewrite the Stars it is like you are looking through their eyes and falling in love too. The emotion that these two actors have captured your heart in every action. The smile that Anne Wheeler gives Phillip Carlyle when they first meet is magic.
“What if we rewrite the stars?
Say you were made to be mine
Nothing could keep us apart
You’d be the one I was meant to find
It’s up to you, and it’s up to me
No one can say what we get to be
So why don’t we rewrite the stars?
Maybe the world could be ours”
Even if musicals aren’t your thing, the story will be well worth the hours spent watching this film.