“The Greatest Showman“ is unequivocally the feel-good, heart-opening movie of the year. I rushed into the theatre at the last minute and was surprised to find it packed on a Friday night so many weeks after the movie originally opened, even for a film that has been nominated and won a number of awards this season. But, just like its characters, this is not a film to be underestimated. And just like the original version, its attraction is part of the magic and mystery.
Set in New York in the mid-1800s, it follows the making of the circus under P. T. Barnum, whose lofty dreams propelled him from street urchin to successful curator of curiosities and celebrator of humanity.
The movie makes up for its lack of depth of any one character or plot line by its sheer breadth of territory covered. There is a story arc with P. T. and his family, beloved wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and daughters, the oldest of which has a plot thread that follows her dream to become a ballerina. It has Tony-award winning Keala Settle playing the bearded lady who overcomes her shame to embracing her inner diva and leading the anthem “This Is Me” where she belts out, “Look out ’cause here I come, And I’m marching on to the beat I drum, I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies!”
Another plot line follows the blossoming romance between the circus’s high-society apprentice Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) who falls in love with trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Another follows Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” (Rebecca Ferguson, with vocals by “The Voice” contestant Loren Allred) and her romantic interest in P. T.; and another tracks the adversarial relationship between P. T. and the local theatre reviewer.
It could be considered a circus of a circus, if not for the inspired manner in which the musical numbers are interwoven with the key plot lines. They, and the companion choreography, add value at every note. The music is so catchy, I’ve literally had it on repeat since leaving the theatre. Elsa and “Let It Go” have some serious competition for title of the most fun song to sing along with. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to break into song and dance on the heels of a theatrical production, but that’s exactly the joy that “The Greatest Showman” brought to my being.
I don’t have to be an expert on the origins of the circus or the biography of P. T. Barnum to tell you this offering takes liberal artistic license. So if you are more interested in the true history of P. T. Barnum, you won’t find that here.
What is clear, however, is that P. T. was the greatest showman, and I have to imagine that he would be impressed with the showmanship used in telling his tale. Throughout the movie are uplifting messages of being true to yourself, finding your tribe, following your heart, and living your truth. Detractors may call it campy, but it is also catchy and endlessly endearing. One of the women who walked into the theatre at the same time as me sheepishly admitted it was her second time watching it (or maybe her third, she confessed as the credits rolled). In her words, “‘The Greatest Showman’ just makes my heart happy.”
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.