Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Greatest Showman: One of the Great Musical Films of Our Times

Movie Review: The Greatest Showman (2017)
Version: Cable on-demand purchase

I've heard lots of good things about The Greatest Showman, and now I've seen them. Electrifying performances and wonderful music and dance scenes make it one of the great musical films of our times. Key to it is the talent of lead actor Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum.

P.T. or Phineas or Phin as his character is variously called during the story starts out as a penniless orphan in rough city streets, but he gets a break working for the railroad and works his way up to the finance division. He marries his lifelong sweetheart, Charity, the daughter of a wealthy man who has no appreciation for the uncouth upstart but can't stop his daughter from marrying Barnum. When the railroad goes belly up, Barnum uses a "borrowed" issue of company stock a collateral for a loan to start a introduce a museum of amazing wax figures, which is an immediate flop. Then Barnum gets the idea to gather the area's oddballs and freaks to perform before the common people in a warehouse theater, and it's a success, although local people think it's an abomination, egged on by poor reviews by high-brow critics. Barnum taps the creative wits of a successful but unhappy theatrical writer and producer, Phillip Carlyle, who he hopes can attract a more high-brow audience. Carlyle does his best, but it's an uphill battle, until he arranges for Barnum to meet Europe's finest opera singer, Jenny Lind, and Barnum finally gets his chance to up his credentials among the elites. But at what cost to the rest of the cast, the show, and worst of all, his family?

Now, the other performances in this film are great. Zac Efron is great at Carlyle. Zendaya is beautiful as the trapeze artist who becomes Carlyle's love interest. Michele Williams plays Barnum's devoted wife, Charity. Rebecca Ferguson shines as the elegant Jenny Lind. And among the oddity and freak show performers, Keala Settle is commanding as Lettie Lutz the bearded lady while Sam Humphrey is lovable as Tom Thumb the dwarf with an often scalding sense of humor. But the actor to commands the center of the screen at all times -- ironically, the ringleader of the circus -- is Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum. Without him in the lead, this film would not be as powerful. His swagger, his verve, his expression, his whole-body commitment to character and performance make this film. In fact, as I watched the end of the film, I noticed that when Barnum hands off the circus ringleader job to Carlyle, try as he might, Zac Efron diminished the performance. He couldn't have carried off Jackman's role. Jackman is that good!

As much as the performances were important to this film, so was the music, written by the Academy Award lyricists of La La Land. The lyrics were stirring, many as stirring as the pieces for Les Misérables (in which Jackman was also the lead actor).

There is so much to enjoy in watching The Greatest Showman. You can't miss it. Now that it's available on DVD and Blu-Ray, you can enjoy it at home with the whole family.

No comments: