After multiple attempts to write a review of The Greatest Showman over the course of 2018, I found that the easiest way to put my feelings into words is by breaking it down; throwing all that fancy lingo to the wayside for a little bit and speaking to you on a personal level. We may not go as long as I normally would, or we may go even longer than usual, but no matter what length this “review” is, by the end of it you’re going to understand why I adore The Greatest Showman. “Why now?” you may ask. Well, a year ago today was when I first saw the film in a theater, and though it may sound cliché, my life changed forever. There are few things in life that I can attribute to genuinely inspiring me. Hamilton is a big one, of course, as it spawned my love of musical theater. Though I’d been in shows throughout middle school, I never cared much about Broadway and its history until Hamilton. In a similar way, The Walking Dead got me into comic books, and Assassin’s Creed got me into video game lore, and expanded universes. In the world of cinema, however, few films have left their mark on me in such a way that would shape my entire being. I tend to gravitate more to characters in movies as opposed to the movies themselves. Kylo Ren from Star Wars, Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, Moana – these characters inspire me, and slowly my interests begin to shift. But something like Frozen – or perhaps, The Greatest Showman – comes into my life once in a blue moon, and when it does, that world I thought I knew completely explodes.
What makes a film brilliant? Nay, what makes anything brilliant? To me, this means it leaves a lasting impression. Brilliance is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “exceptionally clever or talented.” Brilliance is simultaneously something that is always being questioned and should never be questioned. When something brilliant appears in one’s life, it is known immediately. That brilliant thing is undoubtedly awe-inspiring and extreme. It leaves an impression unlike anything before it and cements itself in one’s brain as the catalyst for nonstop entertainment. However, to others, this brilliance may not be apparent, which breeds questions and criticism as to why it has been labeled “brilliant.” My point here is that while my views on Frozen and The Greatest Showman may have been met with a considerable amount of disdain from the public, due to the nature of “brilliance” my opinion still stands strong. Which brings us back to the matter at hand: The Greatest Showman is a brilliant cinematic masterpiece that continues to touch my heart a year and nearly 10 viewings later. From the breathtaking scenery and colors on-screen to the award-winning soundtrack that brings me just as much enjoyment off-screen, this film is one of the most influential movie musicals to ever bless this world with its presence. Now please, allow me to elaborate on this massive heap of praise.
My earliest memories of The Greatest Showman stem from an odd series of emails I received a couple years back. I must have signed up for these emails, though I can’t recall why, and they eventually became strictly promotional content for The Greatest Showman. I latched onto all this news, and when the movie finally released in late 2017, I was eager to see this film/Broadway show I’d been hearing about for so long. Sadly that dream didn’t come true until January 21, 2018 – a year ago today – but on that day, everything changed for me and my family. You see, The Greatest Showman has this ability to suck you in from the start, a feat that not many films can successfully achieve. After three viewings in a theater, I can still remember how I felt the first time I heard that opening “Whoa,” sung by the whole ensemble. It’s the perfect way to set up a film that truly captured my emotions and wouldn’t let go until the final note was sung. Beginning on the edge of my seat and ending in a shriveled up pile of tears and satisfaction, there were so many moments that had my mouth agape and left me questioning what would happen next. While some of the film’s narrative is fairly inaccurate or forgetful of important events and characters, the tale shown onscreen is just as compelling as other historical musicals (I’m looking at you, Hamilton).
Strangely enough, this isn’t the first time Phineas T. Barnum’s story has gotten the musical theater treatment. Aptly called Barnum, the 1980 Broadway show follows a similar plot, including the titular hero’s rocky relationship with his wife, Charity, and his devastating scandal with the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. The major difference between both musicals is that Barnum sees the self-proclaimed “Prince of Humbug” in a darker light, openly taking advantage of his customers and owning up to the use of smoke and mirrors rather than legitimate circus “freaks.” Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Barnum, however, is a much more sincere showman, who establishes a true family of performers that stick together through some of the most brutal bouts of harassment from the public. One thing’s for sure, though, that no matter which portrayal of P.T. Barnum’s life is more accurate, it can’t be denied that he loved the art of performing for a crowd, and boy did he do it well. Through every scene of The Greatest Showman, there runs this common theme that “the show must go on.” Through every struggle and every hardship, Barnum consistently strives for perfection in everything he does. Not unlike the aforementioned Alexander Hamilton, Barnum had no problem risking everything in life to get to where he wanted to be. Sadly, this led to the downfall of both musical icons.
You may have noticed that I’m being quite vague with my description of the film’s plot. Honestly, this is why I shied away from reviewing The Greatest Showman, as it’s hard to be spoiler-free, and going all-in with spoilers would just do this masterpiece a real injustice. That in itself says something about this musical’s brilliance. I could go on for paragraphs about how Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron – the faces of X-Men and High School Musical, respectively – completely redefined their careers by delivering standout, stellar performances unlike anything I’ve seen either of them do before. They blew me away every time they opened their mouths, and the talent they lent made this already incredible soundtrack even more phenomenal. Speaking of the soundtrack, one doesn’t even have to see the movie to know the songs, as “This Is Me” has taken the world by storm this past year with usage in the Winter Olympic Games, and a spiritually moving cover by Ke$ha that the radio still won’t stop playing. Not to mention, The Greatest Showman Reimagined being released this past December, which sees the entire album remade by artists like Panic! at the Disco, P!nk, and Pentatonix (among other bands that don’t start with a “P”). “This Is Me” even won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and is nominated for a Grammy in February of this year.
So what does the future hold for The Greatest Showman? Well, hopefully, a Grammy, for one, but that’s going to be a difficult race since it’s up against this year’s Golden Globe Winner, “Shallow,” from A Star is Born, as well as the Best Original Song Oscar winner, “Remember Me,” from Disney’s Coco. Fingers crossed, but should that fall-through, I still don’t think we’ve seen the last of this musical spectacle. I say this mainly because Hugh Jackman has all but confirmed recently that a stage production is in the works. He has admitted there have been talks amongst the film’s creators, and he believes it could easily be adapted for Broadway. Personally, I’m wary about seeing the story portrayed by anyone else, especially an ever-rotating cast. More songs would need to be added, though that probably won’t be an issue. Much like Frozen, whose musical brought the song count from 9 to 22 thanks to its original composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Showman‘s composers Pasek and Paul of Dear Evan Hansen fame could easily add some more tunes – but would it feel the same? That’s what scares me. I don’t know how I feel about trying to improve perfection, but I guess that’s a question for the future.
For now, I will continue to rewatch this spectacular film for years to come and be thankful to have gotten in on the ground floor of something so extremely magical. I want to thank the entire cast and crew for bringing this story to life in such a creative and gripping way. Everyone from the songwriters to the costume designers worked so hard to produce a movie musical that would resonate with today’s generation, and they successfully did just that. Last but not least, congratulations to Michael Gracey for establishing himself as a brilliant filmmaker in his directorial debut. And to you, LosHarrow readers, thank you for letting me pour my heart out a little and express one of my deepest loves, albeit in a less-than-professional way. The Greatest Showman has just impacted my life in ways I can barely describe. It’s been there for me at my best and worst moments of 2018, and I’m truly grateful for its story, its music, and its message – all of which should be seen as a blessing; a genuine light shining in the darkness of today’s world.