Image copyright of raminrahim/Flickr
Typically, before opting to pay extortionate prices to see films at the cinema, I skim the web for reviews and rotten tomato ratings to see if it’s worth the fuss. But for this particular film, following some of my stagey friend’s endorsement of ‘The Greatest Showman’ I became adamant on saving the entire film for my judgement on the big screen. And it certainly did not disappoint.
The film’s cyclical narrative- opening with a grand display of awe-inspiring circus talent and closing with this same spectacle, was one of the film’s producers’ (Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon) most impressive choices. This exuberance of lively costumes, musical theatre and colour is soon identified as the dream of an aspiring ‘showman’, young Phineas Barnum, whose determination to combine joy and talent for audiences is strictly confined to his imagination by the upper-class members of his society.
In the first few minutes of the film we are also introduced to the beautiful daughter of a highly privileged family, Charity, who Barnum appears to admire. It is at this point which the musical attribute of the film takes the spotlight with its original number ‘A Million Dreams.’. The lyrics and accompanying media tell the tale of the youths’ journey to adulthood and then parenthood as a couple- at which point Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams adopt their roles.
Set primarily in the hubbub of Manhattan, this genius plot questions society’s perceptions of diversity, wealth and family loyalties- proving a tear-jerker at many moments. Barnum’s dreams of ‘making it’ in the world of showbiz takes it flight following the failure of an abandoned animal museum to attract visitors. Consequently, with the help of his two daughters, he decides to extend it to something slightly more unique, hoping to give his audiences something new and exciting. Barnum pulls together people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and talents and in doing so does what no one had yet braved to do- transform the excluded into the exceptional.
All seems to be running smoothly for Barnum when hundreds of keen spectators flock to the show and he manages to recruit a promising business partner: the wealthy Mr. Carlyle (played by Disney’s Zac Efron who performs in his second singing role since the popular High School Musical sequel). Barnum is making profit, elevating the discriminated and fulfilling his greatest aspiration. But a group of local rebels, combined with critical journalists pose an obstacle for success which may have crushed his new business had he not met Jenny Lind.
The film’s second female protagonist, Lind offers Barnum the best possibility for eternal wealth and success yet. Her acclaimed “operatic” voice (solely pop to the disappointment of some viewers when heard singing ‘Never Enough’) is the precious jewel which he irrationally rushes to get his hands on. Yet, although his desire to bring quality entertainment to the stage promises a prosperous future, it is his true prized possessions which he withdraws his interest in: his wife, his daughters and circus family.
This emotional musical masterpiece alternates between evoking awe, sympathy, and aspiration from its viewers- proving that whilst it is greed and disaster which sometimes tear us away from our true dreams, it is family which will always bring us home.
A truly remarkable piece of musical theatre which should not and cannot be missed.