Director: Michael Gracey.
I wasn’t that interested in this when I first saw the trailers, nor was I keen to go and see it upon its release, hence leaving it until after the new year festivities to actually go watch it and if it wasn’t from my limitless club membership, I wouldn’t have paid to see it. I think I thought this looked pretentious, maybe the title itself adding to an assumed exaggeration. But what the hell, I go watch everything we can, that’s what filmbloggers do right, it’s our duty.
It’s a story about the American entrepreneurial, P.T. Barnum who revolutionised the circus entertainment industry back in the late 1800s, when he took a risky investment and bought Scudder’s American Museum on Broadway in New York City, renaming it the Barnum American Museum and showcased a number of strange and equally intriguing attractions.
Jackman takes the lead role and this isn’t the first, nor the second musical we’ve seen him in, this apparently being a pet project of his for a number of years. He does a grand job of portraying a rather favourable image of the showman. I say this only because history has projection of Barnum with many mixed and conflicting opinions, especially as the real life Barnum had commented himself of being unmusical. But the story here takes pity and Jackman delivers.
We see how his dream had come into fruition, his personal life with his first wife Charity Hallett, played by Williams and of course, the very show itself. Efron plays an accomplished playwright who eventually partners with Barnum and I can only awesome his character is inspired by the real life circus ringmaster James Anthony Bailey who was part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus company that hosted “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
Now the rest of the cast, or I should say the real stars for the show are the assembly of talented oddities and other strange curiosities. All of whom being inspired by real performers from the circus. Most notably Keala Settle who plays Lettie Lutz, a bearded lady who sings the amazing, an Oscar nominated song “This Is Me” (this song should have won in my opinion.) but we have Tom Thumb, Siamese twins, acrobats, the tattooed man, dog boy and a strongman among many others each having a skill or abnormality that makes them unique.
Apart from one Jenny Lind who was a famed Swedish soprano better know as the Swedish Nightingale and is played by Rebecca Ferguson. Although Ferguson did sing during her performance, her actual operatics are dubbed by Loren Allred, who first got the publics attention by competing in the American reality talent show, The Voice. Her part being integral to the plot and the start of Barnum’s decline.
This being a musical, it bears no relation to the broadway musical Barnum apart from the obviously subject matter. The music is absolutely astonishing, the songs in particular because they completely cast over Debney and Trapanese’s accompanying score. La La Land and Trolls’ lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (better known as Pasek and Paul within the industry) write the tracks that are mostly anthems, catchy songs that gets the heart racy and is undeniably infectious, uplifting and often empowering.
This pop soundtrack, which might appear unfitting for the setting and era, coupled with some incredible choreography from Ashley Wallen, same choreographer from The Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge, makes this film hugely entertaining and is a spectacle feast for the eyes as all good musicals should be. What furthers my astonishment is this is Michael Gracey’s directorial debut having been an animator and working in the digital and visual effect departments for a number of years.
I believe I wasn’t alone with audience putting this film off with maybe many going under protest with significant others, as the film’s success rose some weeks after its general release. Quite possibly because of the hype that was growing from surprised, impressed viewers like myself.
It’s not the greatest show on earth but it is certainly one of the best and was an absolute delightful, joy to watch. I don’t mind admitting to listening to the soundtrack immediately after and for the following days at work, providing myself with some new van karaoke material.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 5 for being a superbly crafted extravaganza.