So, as much as we loved The Last Jedi, not everyone can be a Star Wars fan so what better antidote to a sci-fi franchise than a musical about the circus?
Hugh Jackman plays the legendary P.T. Barnum in the song and dance spectacular The Greatest Showman that, although it has all the fun of the fair and the ingredients for a classic movie musical, it doesn’t quite deliver beyond its sparkly wrapping – but does that actually matter?
The film follows the story of the visionary behind The Barnum & Baily Circus known as The Greatest Show on Earth – which actually only closed its tent flaps in May this year after 146 years. However, don’t expect a historically accurate or in-depth look at the life of this legendary and controversial figure. Here Barnum is a right hoot and not bad to look at either. Barnum’s rise from a lowly tailor’s son, to marrying the girl of his dreams to starting his own business all happens in a flash but success does not come easy and Barnum’s determined to find himself a crew of live ‘curiosities’ that’ll really draw a crowd. Enter the cast of oddballs which includes a bearded lady, and extra large man, an extra tall man and an extra small man.
When Barnum knows he’s onto a winner he brings in rich kid Phillip Carlyle played by Zac Efron as his business partner – let the song and dance hit new heights!!! Carlyle finds more than a love of the circus, he also falls for trapeze artist Anne Wheeler played by Zendaya. Their romance is wonderfully portrayed within the dazzling high flying duet ‘Rewrite the Stars’ which is both exciting and charming to watch.
Overall, We’re not given a lot of time to get to know or get too attached to the wider cast of characters within the circus but they do present some excellent ensemble choreography most notably during ‘This Is Me’ performed with gusto by the very talented Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz the bearded lady. She sings that song with raw energy and passion depicting a hungry, proud and determined performer.
The 11 original tunes are varied but it’s the big foot stomping moments that steal the show. The upbeat ‘Come Alive’ is a celebratory number that highlights exactly why Hugh Jackman is the star he is. He has no trouble belting out the tunes, hitting those high notes and leading his troupe of misfits in dance and choreographed circus or saloon escapades. He’s a wonderful performer who totally owns the screen and is an old-school leading man whose talent draws us in. He’s loving every minute of it and his musical theatre self is unleashed in full and it was wonderful to see him in a more fun and optimistic piece compared to the seriousness of 2012’s Les Miserables. If there’s nothing else for you in this film, you will leave with a great admiration for this excellent and versatile performance.
As if built in a musicals lab, Efron’s good looks, great voice and slick moves make him the perfect sidekick to Jackman and they enjoy a particularly fun and fast-paced number together in ‘The Other Side’. Michelle Williams is probably underused but is a perfect dutiful wife and mother.
Although altogether there are excellent big performances and individually the cast are all fantastic, The Greatest Showman just doesn’t compete with other great musicals or add a much-needed breath of fresh air like Moulin Rouge did with its heart, energy and tragedy. It doesn’t all fit together smoothly and it’s much more like many individual fun frolics rather than a well-developed story. Hollywood A-list cast ✔ epic dance routines ✔ big show-stopping numbers ✔ compelling story and character connections – unfortunately not.
The Greatest Showman may just be the perfect movie for the festive season, it’s bright, bold and sparkly with great tunes and a leading man who’s in his element. Check it out in cinemas from Boxing Day.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.