“The Greatest Showman” Dazzles and Distracts from History

From Pexels

From Pexels

By Lynette Randall

A bright and lyrical depiction of P.T. Barnum’s early circus career, The Greatest Showman delights with original music and touching acting, yet creates dissonance in its false depiction of the actual “greatest showman.”

Directed by Michael Gracey and featuring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson, The Greatest Showman is not short on talent. In fact, its talent seems to burst with each original song, written by the Academy Award-winning lyricists of “La La Land,” the music is sure to find its way onto your Spotify playlist immediately upon viewing the film.

Portraying Barnum’s (played by Jackman) rise to success from a scrappy orphan, The Greatest Showman depicts tenacity, humor and friendship as Barnum passionately collects a group of misfits to open his own museum and later circus.

Hardly as ennobling as Gracey’s movie clearly made him out to be, Barnum was highly racist and chauvinistic. In a social atmosphere that is progressively trying to establish a high critical consciousness and awareness to minorities and equity, it is a shame to see media entertainment brush aside loud points in history, opting instead to paint a cheery depiction of a man before his time (in show business absolutely, in human compassion hardly.) The beautiful highlights of the film are results of Barnum’s supposed kindness, charitable behavior and outreach to those of a “curious nature.” Yet, that is hardly the actual truth. The phenomenal music and theatrical depiction are almost enough to erase the bad aftertaste.

However, historic and political incorrectness aside, “The Greatest Showman” is wonderful and bursting with all kinds of talent. The bright background of an up and coming circus makes for a fantastic stage and is as thrilling and as dramatic as you’d expect.

Of particular highlight is Keala Settle, who performs the original song “This is Me.” Settle’s portrayal of the bearded lady, as well as the untitled ringleader within Barnum’s group of misfits, is heart-warming and inspiring. Her singing is also impressive and unbelievable.

Efron and Zendaya also deserve the spotlight in their depiction of star-crossed lovers within a tumultuous political atmosphere. Possibly the only socially accurate representation within the film, Phillip Carlyle, played by Efron, is an affluent and young business partner to Barnum who dismisses all social norm restrictions by pursuing Anne Wheeler — played by Zendaya — the highlighted trapeze artist in Barnum’s circus, who is also a person of color. Their forbidden joining is met with ridicule and abuse and fuels a passionate interchange. “Rewrite the Stars,” another original song, is enhanced by breathtaking choreography in which both Efron and Zendaya perform their own trapeze stunts while singing to one another.

Finally, Hugh Jackman is unequivocally the star of the show and worthy of the title “the greatest showman.” Opening the film with an unorthodox, but delightful rendition of theater and dance while performing the original song, “The Greatest Show,” Jackman sets the tone of the film to be engaging and impressive. He leads the way through the narration of Barnum’s struggles and successes with charming authenticity and beautiful emotion.

“The Greatest Showman” is undoubtedly great and worthy of seeing and enjoying. Another musical classic along the lines of “La La Land” and “Moulin Rouge” has emerged with Jackman’s bold talents at the forefront. After seeing the show, which admittedly goes hand in hand with a subsequent downloading of the repeat-worthy original soundtrack, make sure you also research Barnum and those whom he employed. Respect them by taking the time to know and understand their real story, too.

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