Arts movie review

La La Circus

P.T. Barnum’s idealized business makes for quite a good show

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Hugh Jackman stars as P.T. Barnum.

The Greatest Showman
Directed by Michael Gracey
Screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon
Story by Jenny Bicks
Rated PG, now playing

Take yourself back to the early 1800s, New York City. A vibrant metropolis as filled with foot-traffic as with horse-drawn carriages, positively pulsing with life. At the intersection of Broadway and Ann Street rests the fantastic P.T. Barnum’s American Museum, an imposing, embellished white building highlighted with red ribbon and colourful variety of ten foot tall advertisements for human curiosities and oddities.

With this as a backdrop, The Greatest Showman takes the compositional talents behind La La Land (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and makes a fanciful hard-pop musical rendition of the life of P.T. Barnum and his circus. While taking large artistic licences on the true story, the writers bring to life an emotionally engaging, visually stunning, and auditorily amazing performance, powerfully supported by the vocal talents of Hugh Jackman (P.T. Barnum), Zac Efron (Philip Carlyle), Keala Settle (Lettie Lutz, the Bearded Lady), and Loren Allred (voice of Jenny Lind, who was acted by Rebecca Ferguson).

The distorted, auto-tuned, grungy feel associated with the hard-pop genre was definitely evident, occasionally clashing with the bright, stylized mid-1800s visual, but the catchiness and takeaway from the songs has kept me humming since. To each song, there was impressive, colourful, exciting, albeit occasionally fake-looking choreography, masterfully designed by Mathieu Leopold.

Personally, I loved the audacity of the movie. Nothing was underdone, sometimes to the point of being too over the top (I’m looking at you Jenny Lind), but always unapologetically so, and in such a way that never really felt stationary. Each character had an arc to travel and did so in their own way, overcoming hurdles and making leaps on their own, often without hand-holding the audience through the developments. The writers wanted to make you care about the characters and their journey, practicing the best of the “Show, don’t tell” school of storytelling.

Sidenote: Best background character award of 2017 goes to the bartenders. Just a whole new level of unspoken sass and understanding between them and Barnum. From their synchronicity in “The other side” to the unspoken bond shown in “From now on” with all of Barnum's achievements documented on the walls, created, without a single line, a fun and somewhat interesting background character. Well done Daniel Campos and Rod Roberts!