Happy Holiday Musical for Entire Family
Being a lover of musicals, we tend to be a bit biased when a new tuneful film comes along. The Greatest Showman from Twentieth Century Fox studios brings back memories of all the great classic musicals that were produced on that lot. Betty Grable comes to mind, of course, because she was Queen of the Lot for more than a decade (approximately 1940 – 1950). Also adding to Fox musicals were June Haver, Carmen Miranda and her slaughtered English and three-foot high fruit-laden turbans, dancer Dan Dailey and Mitzi Gaynor. Even Broadway’s Ethel Merman graced several musicals from Fox. The biggest musical of all time, The Sound of Music with Julie Andrew and Christopher Plummer,” was a Fox production.
Now in our time, we have the dazzling Hugh Jackman as the star who has brightened Broadway and films with his musical talent. We now claim him as our own, but he hails from Australia, a country that has provided us with many current stars.
P.T. Barnum is strictly an American product, or we should say “entrepreneur.” As a boy he was poor as dirt and opportunities were few. One thing he had was an inclination to embrace the bizarre. Not adverse to using hokum and sales pitches that would embarrass even a vacuum cleaner salesman, Barnum opened a museum of oddities that was new in concept but not attractive enough to draw an audience. Jackman has enough enthusiasm to persuade the movie audience into thinking he’s the greatest showman of them all, and he sells Barnum like a can of soup to us. Jackman’s enthusiasm as Barnum is catchy, and we get caught up in his quest to make something of himself. A few musical numbers thrown in by the La La Land tunesmiths Benj Pasek and Justin Paul speed things along and get us tapping our feet.
Barnum gets married along the way (Michelle Williams) and convinces his wife’s father that he will be a huge success. Of course, drama is served when he flops before hitting on the theme of presenting circus-type oddities that create a sensation. Joining in the fun and some lavish musical numbers are The Bearded Lady (Keala Settle) and little Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey). Bright, garish colors supplement the creative costumes designed by Ellen Mirojnick, and the circus comes alive! Barnum has hit upon the theme that makes him a world-wide name in show business.
Youngsters will coo over the love match between heart throb Zac Ephron (a successful play producer) and Zendaya, who plays a trapeze artist. Is their romance doomed because she is of another ethnic race? Ephron manages to use his talents from High School Musical to advantage as he cavorts through various musical numbers like a re-incarnated Gene Kelly.
Barnum wanted to expand his producing talents into more “legit” pursuits. As such, he brought European nightingale Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) to New York and created yet another sensation as she took singing to new heights. Ms. Fergusson is a sensation as Lind and surprises us with a gorgeous singing voice we didn’t know she had. Was it dubbed or was it hers?
Despite the ups and downs of Barnum’s life -- and we don’t see all aspects of it -- the film boats plenty of eye and ear-popping musical numbers populated by some of the best dancers available. Although a little light on character development, the script by Bill Condon and Jill Bicks merely highlights Barnum’s life and doesn’t dig deeply into his psyche.
Some of the sets look fake and like painted backdrops. The film was obviously made on a sound stage and no outdoor shots were seemingly used. These are minor objections to what turns out to be a tuneful, colorful, happy holiday musical for the entire family to enjoy.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated “PG” for thematic elements including a brawl.)