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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 25, 2018

The Greatest Showman Movie Review: Showstopping Musical Numbers And Catchy Songs Make This A Must Watch Direct-For-The-Screen Musical

 IF YOU ENJOY watching musicals, no doubt you’ll be entertained by “The Greatest Showman”, based on the life of PT (Phineas Taylor) Barnum, who put up one of the most popular circuses ever and later on became a politician in Bridgeport, Connecticut where he died in 1891. His circus folded up only in May of last year after 146 years of continuous operation.

They took a lot of liberties in telling the story of the well known 19th century showman to make it more watchable for today’s generation of viewers, so don’t swallow everything you see on screen hook, line and sinker. But still, it’s very watchable, what with its many showstopping numbers that are all well choreographed and executed for the big screen.

There are also lots of catchy tunes (by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who did the songs in ‘La La Land’ and the Broadway hit ‘Dear Evan Hansen’) done in a contemporary style so as not to alienate millennials. And of course, the biggest asset is Hugh Jackman in the title role. His charisma oozes on screen and he handles the highly energized musical sequences with much panache, really knowing how to hold and merit our attention when he’s on screen.

Barnum comes from the working class, the son of a tailor who falls in love with a girl from a rich family. He eventually marries her (Michelle Williams) and they have two daughters. In an effort to improve their station in life, he buys a museum in New York City, but only a few people are interested so he puts up a show with human oddities, like the bearded lady (Keala Seattle), the midget known as Gen. Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), the Siamese twins Chang and Eng, and other “freaks”.

The show quickly becomes a huge hit and he eventually gets to recruit a young partner Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron, playing a fictional character), who manages to arrange for them to perform in front of England’s Queen Victoria. He also gets to convince famous singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), known as the Swedish Nightingale, to do a concert tour in the U.S.

Barnum suffers a setback when his circus is burned down by some irate detractors but the movie is not just about his rise and fall but also about his rising once again from the ashes. Made directly for the big screen (in contrast to films adapted from a stage musical or a cartoon movie), “The Greatest Showman” is not as thoroughly engaging as “La La Land” (another musical written directly for the big screen), but it’s still a good crowdpleaser with its uplifting musical sequences.

The songs really soar and the actors are all very competent singers and dancers. It’s nice to see Zac Efron singing once again after the TV flicks that made him, “High School Musical”. The romance between him and the American-African trapeze artist with pink hair (Zendaya) is fairly endearing and their duet number in the love song “Rewrite the Stars” is one of the film’s best highlights, done while they’re dangling up in the air inside an empty circus tent.

And once again, we go back to Hugh Jackman. With this and his interpretation of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables”, he finally shows that his powerful baritone is enough of an attraction and there’s really more to him than just being part of the X-Men as Wolverine. After all, he really started as a song-and-dance man on stage winning the Tony Award for “The Boy from Oz”.

There are really many good songs, starting with ‘The Greatest Show’, which opens the movie as it takes us on a tour of what the circus has in store for us, urging us to “just surrender as you feel the feeling taking over.”

The next song, “A Million Dreams”, showing a young Barnum and his girlfriend dreaming about their own destiny. By the end of the song, the boy turns to Hugh and the girl to Michelle Williams. The bearded lady’s song, “This Is Me”, could very well be the new anthem of outcasts who become helpless victims of prejudice. It is now nominated as best song in the Oscars.

Rebecca Ferguson also slays as Jenny Lind singing the power ballad ‘Never Enough’. She’s said to be just lip syching, but her performance carries it well.

The film is directed with much verve and color by Michael Graccy, who manages to inject a valid message about the importance of tolerance in accepting diversity among as humans, which is something that the current U.S. president seems to be allergic to.