Saturday movie review: The Greatest Showman

Though I've never seen one on Broadway, Broadway musicals are by far my favorite form of entertainment. Despite living 1,777 miles from the bright lights of New York City, I've had the privilege of seeing several shows by national touring groups on their stops in Denver (The Who's Tommy being my forever fave... so far).

I've found nothing more magical nor moving as experiencing the spectacular sights and sounds of a well-produced and passionately performed musical. No concert I've ever attended has compared. No movie I've seen has come close to affecting me like a live musical production.

Until, that is, I saw THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, which Jim and I went to see New Year's Eve afternoon.

the-greatest-showman-poster.jpg

The first few notes of the opening number teased the possibility the film just might be more spectacular than we expected, more Broadway musical-like than we ever hoped. Another song or two erased all doubt. In fact, after about four numbers, Jim leaned over and exclaimed how much the movie felt like we were at a show.

What a show, er, movie it was. A joyous spectacle of song and dance like I've never before seen on the screen. Hugh Jackman shines as P.T. Barnum, the man with big dreams and dauntless dedication to make them come true. The man who virtually invented show business with his sensational, spectacular circus. 

Along for the ride to the big top are his wife Charity (played ever so sweetly by Michelle Williams), their daughters, a troupe of fantastic freaks of endearing sorts including bearded woman Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), Tom Thumb (Sam Wheeler) and others. Plus, eventually, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) whose popularity as an uptight playwright provides punch โ€” and money โ€” for the show to gain foothold... and go on.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit, embracing one's unique qualities, family, and friendship. Award-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (of LA LA LAND and Broadway's Dear Evan Hanson fame plus others) crafted joyful, triumphant tunes the stars performed with phenomenal heart and soul. With jubilant dance moves to match and move the story merrily along.

The only dance number I found a wee bit hokey? The "rope dance" featuring Zendaya and Zac Efron declaring their love and devotion to one another while sailing through the air. The two are indeed a talented pair (and featurettes prove they made many of the moves sans stunt double) but I found the lively group numbers far more appealing. And breathtaking. And soul stirring. (So much so that I had to stifle a sob at least once as I was unexpectedly overcome with the sheer splendor of it all.)

Every vocal number was performed by the actors with the exception of the character of Swedish singing sensation Jenny Lind, played by Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson's lip-syncing was amazing, though, perfectly synced with the passionate, poignant pivotal song sung by Loren Allred (a contestant on season three of The Voice).

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon based on the story by Jenny Bicks, is based on the amazing yet true tale of P.T. Barnum. Naturally, it's not 100 percent historically accurate, but when such exuberant, uplifting, unstoppable joy radiates from the screen and stays with viewers long after the show's over, who really cares whether it's all true or not. It's fun, it's fantastic, it's enthusiastic escapism at it's finest. And it was exactly the positive pomp and circumstance my heart and soul needed to counteract the negative, dark, and dreary days of our recent reality. 

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN was nominated for three Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy; Best Original Song - Motion Picture; and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy (Hugh Jackman). Tomorrow's televised Golden Globes program will reveal the winners.

I have my fingers crossed all three nominations will become wins, but the nominated song, "This is Me," seems like it simply cannot lose. Sung in the film by bearded lady Lettie Lutz (the amazing Keala Settle), the song is a resonant anthem for anyone bullied or beat down for being different. Take a look at the behind-the-scenes story of Settle's first performance of "This Is Me" (I dare ya to not get goosebumps!):

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl) opened in theaters December 20, 2017. It's the kind of film best seen on the big screen, yet will surely dazzle and delight even screened from a DVD. I urge you to not miss it, one way or another.

Find out more about THE GREATEST SHOWMAN on the film's official website.