It’s The Greatest Show, Man!

Barnum biopic proudly presents diversity as virtue

Emily Willis | Opinion Editor

     A hush fills the room as the lights dim, casting the theatre in darkness. A black and white Twentieth Century Fox logo covers the screen and a silhouette of Hugh Jackman follows. Thumping percussion fills the ears and hearts of onlookers.

    “The Greatest Showman” is a musical inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum and his creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. As the movie begins, a young Barnum (Ellis Rubin) is fantasizing about one day becoming the star of a musical number, belting “The Greatest Show,” welcoming visitors to his circus. He is surrounded by adoring fans, clapping and screaming, but is wrenched away from this vision by his father, Philo, who is a tailor. Barnum falls in love with a young Charity Hallett (Skylar Dunn), the daughter of Philo’s client. He is pulled away from Hallett by the hands of her father and, not long after, Barnum’s own dad dies. A time jump and a love song later, Hallett (Michelle Williams) and Barnum (Jackman) are married and have two daughters.

     After some monetary struggles, Barnum establishes a museum in the heart of New York City. He brings together a show featuring people with special talents and physical abnormalities including trapeze artists, a giant, a dwarf and a bearded lady (Keala Settle). The parade of these “oddities and curiosities” is groundbreaking as Barnum brings together audiences that marvel at people who were past shunned and ignored. With the help of Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), Barnum’s show becomes a shocking success. The story of P.T. Barnum’s circus is as follows: selfishness, heartbreak and even racism.

     The music in “The Greatest Showman” is something to behold. Written by Oscar- and Tony-winning pair Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who composed songs for the film “La La Land” and Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” the music builds and dives. Pasek and Paul earned a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “This Is Me,” a song in which Barnum’s circus performers chant about their unique qualities and how society should accept them and their quirky appearances. The star of this song, Settle, has a powerhouse voice that captivates anyone who listens. Her transformation throughout the movie from shameful worker to daring prima donna is enthralling and exciting.

     Jackman shocks with musical numbers such as “The Greatest Show” and “From Now On.” Jackman, who began his career in musicals and even won a Tony for his role in “The Boy From Oz,” sings Barnum’s woes and triumphs with much emotion. Most know Jackman from his title role in “Wolverine.” Having played a superhero, his high baritone is pleasantly surprising.

     Ashley Wallen is the choreographer behind the ballet recitals, prancing horses and synchronized stomping. During the song, “The Other Side,” Barnum is convincing Carlyle to join him in his bazaar. The bartender pours glasses and flings them about, all in tune with the beat. “Rewrite The Stars,” another song notably accompanied by choreography, is a love song between Zendaya and Efron’s characters. Taking place in an empty circus tent, Efron climbs around the tent, desperately reaching for Zendaya. They fly on the hoop together, dropping and snatching each other with full faith that one will catch the other.

     “The Greatest Showman” tells the tale of a visionary and his rise to fame; singing the story of a man who started from nothing and became a worldwide sensation. 127 years after P.T. Barnum’s death, his legacy and acceptance lives on.