Musical film “The Greatest Showman” details the story of the life of P.T. Barnum

By Abigail Sokolsky || Layout Assistant 

Photo courtesy of www.photospy.com

The Greatest Showman premiered in December of 2017, directed by Michael Gracey and starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, and Zendaya Coleman. The film, a musical drama written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, is inspired by the story of the rise of the first great circus, created in 1919 by P.T. Barnum. Set in New York, the film details P.T. Barnum’s humble beginnings, fondness for the underdog or socially ostracized, and dream of a society more accepting of outsiders or those considered in opposition to the status quo. The setting of 1900s New York and the juxtaposition of New York elite and the lower class is therefore both historically accurate as well as aesthetically appropriate for a film which addresses the tension between old money and an innovative new generation.

Not only is this film thematically impressive, but the musical numbers are stunning as well. The first musical number of the film is The Greatest Show, sung by Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Zendaya Coleman. This song is recurrent throughout the film, acting as an anthem evocative of strength, confidence, camaraderie, and determination. While this song is pervasive throughout the film, the most impressive of the soundtrack remains The Other Side, a remarkably well choreographed duet between Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. This piece is set at a bar as P.T. Barnum meets with Phillip Carlyle, a young man with an upper-class reputation and a knack for performance. As Barnum and Carlyle go back and forth, Barnum making his pitch for why Carlyle should come work with him and Carlyle defending his current glamorous if restricting lifestyle, the two spin and glide throughout the bar while occasionally knocking back drinks, making for a spectacular routine.

Despite the universal themes and phenomenal soundtrack, The Greatest Showman was not initially well received by movie critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film received only an approval rating of 54% and many viewers found themselves critiquing the film for deviating too far from the original story which the film is based upon. While there are indeed many differences from historical fact (the character of Phillip Carlyle, for instance, is entirely fictitious), the film can still be considered a success given how well done the presentation itself is. Indeed, it is undeniable that The Greatest Showman successfully captures the element of the fantastic which was so intrinsic to the prosperity of Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Junior Abigail Sokolsky is a layout assistant. Her email is asokolsk@fandm.edu. 

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