Based on the original musical, “The Greatest Showman” follows P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) from his humble beginnings through his becoming the world’s master entertainer. When his first idea, a museum featuring images of the strange, floundered, he took the advice of his two young daughters (in real life Barnum had a son and a daughter) and decides that people want to see live oddities and not just images. He scours New York City for individuals with strange or rare conditions: a bearded lady, a very fat man—which is much more uncommon at that time—and a small person who is advertised as Tom Thumb. There is a brother and sister trapeze artist team. Their abnormality? Being Black.
Zac Efron plays Phillip Carlyle, an aristocratic theatre producer who shocks his family by working for Barnum, and Zendaya stars as the sister in the trapeze team.
First, “The Greatest Showman” is a musical, a genre I don’t generally like. But “The Greatest Showman” showed this man that musicals can entertain. And it gets a See It! rating. The subtext of the story is one of outcasts overcoming hurdles to succeed. Barnum had been looked down on as the son of a tailor and initially identifies with the misfits in his show. But as he finds success, begins to distance himself from those who made him famous—until he learns who his true friends are.
The setting for this film is the early 1900s, although factually Barnum’s fame occurred much earlier. And choreography, music and lyrics, and even the story lines reflect a more current mindset. For example, Efron’s and Zendaya’s characters are unlikely to have had the interracial romance in that period as they do in this film.
As to the music, it’s incredible. Song after song are beautifully sang and powerfully delivered.
The “Greatest Showman” gets an “A” for cast diversity. With Zendaya in a major role and other characters of color in supporting roles, this level of casting gets the highest mark, considering the period and subject matter of the film.
It is rated PG (for thematic elements including a brawl) and is 105 minutes in length. And it’s worth a trip to the theater this busy holiday season.