Phineas Taylor Barnum is a poor boy. But, he believes in magic and that big dreams can come true. Thereby, he doesn’t think only about his own success. He wants to offer a good life to his big love Charity. This rags-to-riches tale of a brash dreamer who rose from nothing to prove that anything you can envision is possible and that everyone, no matter how invisible, has a stupendous story worthy of a world-class spectacle, presents the new movie The Greatest Showman.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – P.T. BARNUM
P.T. Barnum was born in 1810. He founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The Australian director Michael Gracey thinks Barnum was a person who lived over a century ago, but he was a progenitor of our times. Gracey sees Barnum as a pioneer of today’s visionaries and entrepreneurs who’ve revolutionized social life.
In The Greatest Showman, Hugh Jackman stars as the pioneer of circus. The Australian super-star proved already that he has more to offer than to play a hero. At the Oscar Awards® 2009 he showed already impressive skills in dancing and singing. It seems, he had fun. Because, now, Jackman dominates “The Greatest Showman” with his presence and incredible performance.
Jackman, who devoted himself for years to bring the film to the screen about Barnum: “It’s not exaggerating to say that Barnum ushered in modern-day America – and especially the idea that your talent, your imagination and your ability to work hard should be the only things that determine your success.”
“He knew how to make something out of nothing, how to turn lemons into lemonade. I’ve always loved that quality. He followed his own path, and turned any setback he had into a positive. So many things I aspire to in my life are embodied in this one character.”
P.T. BARNUM / HUGH JACKMAN
Smart and charismatically, Hugh Jackman plays a dreamer, who wants to offer his family a good life. Thereby, not the money plays the main role, but that his daughters could believe in their wishes and dreams too.
After some failures, Barnum has a flash of inspiration. He wants to present a unique show. But, in times of hunger and need, it’s not easy to animate people to spend money for entertainment.
However, P.T. has a brilliant idea. He pulls people together who the world might otherwise have ignored, so called freaks. With characteristics which makes them very unique, they attract the attention of the public. Among them are a dwarf, a woman with a beard, a beautiful acrobat and many others. These special people come together to present an amazing show to the audience.
Though the existence of such performers was not without major moral controversies and ethical misgivings, Michael Gracey saw their stories as being more complex and their experience worthy of exploration. Early on, Gracey took all the actors portraying the Oddities aside and told them: “You are the heart of the show. You should recognize this show is circled around who you are and what you represent.”
Recalls Keala Settle, who takes the role of Lettie Lutz, the Bearded Woman: “We all kind of sat back and looked at each other, and it made me just swell with pride and a lot of joy because it was giving us all a chance to step out, just as P.T. Barnum gives people a chance in the film.”
CHARITY BARNUM / MICHELLE WILLIAMS
From their first encounter until his death, Charity Hallet Barnum would be P.T. Barnum’s greatest source of strength and love. He met the seamstress from a wealthy family when he was still a poor and unknown teenager and proceeded to court her despite their glaring class difference. He won her love and the pair had four daughters together. “As a boy, P.T. had nothing and Charity lived in a world of privilege beyond anything he’d known,” explains Michael Gracey. “But what’s beautiful is that even though Charity has so much, all she wants is to spend her time with P.T. because he possesses something money can’t buy: imagination. When Charity sees the world though P.T.’s eyes, it’s a magical place.”
Fully embodying the role is Michelle Williams, a four-time Oscar® nominee including most recently as an emotionally devastated mother in Manchester By The Sea. Williams often brings the most unexpected take to her performances, and this role was no exception.
JENNY LIND – THE SWEDISH NIGHTINGALE / REBECCA FERGUSON
One of the other important women surrounding P.T. Barnum was one of the world’s very first global superstars: Jenny Lind, who could be equated with the Lady Gaga of her day. Born Johanna Maria Lind in 1820, she was revered in Europe for her acrobatic soprano voice. But it was Barnum who made her an absolute mega-celebrity in America. No one in the nation had heard her sing a note when Barnum signed an 18-month contract with Lind, but he promoted, advertised and gleefully hyped her style and reputation until audiences could wait not one second more to experience her in her glory. 40,000 people greeted her arrival in the U.S., and Lind performed 93 large-scale concerts, drawing unprecedented crowds. As it turned out, the hype was real and Lind wowed audiences, igniting hysteria later echoed in the Beatles, though she and Barnum would eventually part ways.
Taking on the role of an icon who gave birth to the modern idea of icons is up-and-coming leading lady Rebecca Ferguson, who is herself Swedish-born. Ferguson has come to the fore in roles ranging from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation to Girl On The Train, but this was not like anything she’s done previously.
PHILLIP CARLYLE / ZAC EFRON & ANNE WHEELER / ZENDAYA
Though much of The Greatest Showman is drawn from the outlines of P.T. Barnum’s life, two fictional characters bring in fresh points of view. Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle, is a sophisticated man of the theatre who quits his upper-crust life to join the circus. Hence, he becomes Barnum’s ringmaster protégé.
The other person is Zendaya’s Anne Wheeler. She is a daring, taboo-breaking, pink-haired aerialist for whom Carlyle falls headlong. Songwriter Justin Paul says: “Zac and Zendaya are a dynamo pair for the ages. Zendaya is so powerful as a young woman and has such an amazing work ethic. And Zac has that movie star quality that only certain people on this earth have, but he’s also just super-fun and has an outstanding voice.”
Actually, The Greatest Showman presents pure entertainment. But, here and there, social conflicts, intolerance, prejudices and the borders of society play also a role. Of course, an entertaining musical about love and dreams can’t offer a huge space for an in-depth social critic. However, “The Greatest Showman” found an own way. So, a romantic love affair between the beautiful acrobat Anne, and Phillip Carlyle, who is a son of a good family, try to show the social bias of the last century as well as of our time.
All together is presented with impressive pictures and songs, which touch the hearts and souls. The cast is brilliant, from Hugh Jackman
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were responsible for the great songs. The songwriting duo and composing team won the Academy Awards® this year for their work for La La Land. Once more, with incredible arrangements they created catchy tunes which touch the heart.
The dance and musical performances are simply amazing. The camera captures them in an incomparable way, never seen before. Thereby, the visual effects are realistic and driving. After each performance one could be animated to applaud.
THE DIRECTOR / MICHAEL GRACEY
The Australian filmmaker Michael Gracey makes his feature film directorial debut with The Greatest Showman, a story that, in the larger-than-life spirit of Barnum, bursts into a boldly imagined fictional realm, one full of infectious pop tunes, glam dances and a celebration of the transformative power of showmanship, love and self-belief.
Gracey is well experienced as visual effects supervisor. Therefore, regarding “The Greatest Showman” the audience can expect a great spectacle of effects and sounds.
He may have been born into anonymity, but the whole world would come to know his name. When P.T. Barnum passed away in 1891, the Washington Post described him as “the most widely known American that ever lived.”
Probably, The Greatest Showman will not make Barnum that famous again. But it’s a romantic and entertaining homage to a visionary man who believed in dreams.
After La La Land, it’s another musical which brings the golden era of Hollywood on the screens. Moreover, it’s a homage to the dying circus.
Maybe, many people don’t miss it, but the circus was a part of the culture for decades. It provided magic and fun. The circus was a place for dreams which let forget people the real life for a while.
In a modern and respectful way, The Greatest Showman brings that magic and atmosphere back to the cinema. The pictures, music, choreography, performances and actors are simply stunning. Above all, Hugh Jackman convinces with a great performance in acting, singing and dancing.
Of course, The Greatest Showman cannot avoids being a bit kitschy, but in a heart-touching and pleasant way. Bravissimo. Encore!
All Pictures Copyright 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.
Text: Marco Kokkot