“The Greatest Showman”: A Great Performance Riddled with Not-So-Great Inaccuracies
by Amulya Aluru
One way to measure a movie’s potential success is by the quality of its soundtrack. The music used in any film tells a story that is just as important as the script itself. “The Greatest Showman’s” music choices surpass the quality anticipated by listeners familiar with the musical’s trailer and notable stars. Various artists, from Hugh Jackman to The Voice contestant Loren Allred, decorate the soundtrack. Joining the ranks of very few other movie albums, “The Greatest Showman” has enjoyed two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. If its accolades are not enough, the heartfelt and catchy lyrics of every song and the message behind them, will leave listeners in admiration.
The emotional journey of the chronological soundtrack intensifies when watching the movie. The musical tells the story of PT Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, an American showman who rose from nothing to create, against all odds, the famous Barnum and Bailey show (known as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus before its closing). Yearning to make money, he scoured America for unique talent to showcase. Audience members are taken through Barnum’s turbulent life, from his underprivileged childhood to stardom, and the lessons he learns along the way. Jackman’s acting brings the multidimensional character to life with his energetic dancing and superb facial expressions. Viewers find themselves connecting with and rooting for Barnum, even as he makes bad decisions.
Jackman was not the only actor to embrace their character; Zendaya, Zac Efron, and the lesser known stars of the movie all conveyed the diversity and struggles faced by real members of Barnum’s American Museum, a museum that showed the public strange and fascinating phenomena. Viewers empathize with heartfelt performances by actors like Keala Settle, who plays the bearded women Lettie Lutz.
The musical of Barnum’s life, not to disappoint, includes two romantic stories alongside the main plot. One, of Barnum and his childhood love, and the other, of the characters played by Efron and Zendaya. Viewers will find themselves on the edge of their seats for the duration of the movie, and leave the motion picture content and inspired.
One of the most rewarding ways to experience “The Greatest Showman” is in the theatres. The large screen, high-quality sound effects, and dark room create the illusion of audience members being in the actual movie, leading to a greater emotional response. In addition to regular showings, “The Greatest Showman” is also featured as a sing-along for aficionados of the soundtrack. However, this special version is only playing in select theaters; see the AMC website for more information.
Despite its cinematic excellence, “The Greatest Showman” excludes significant parts of PT Barnum’s life in order to paint a picture of relative perfection. Like all humans, Barnum was multidimensional; he did not simply overcome one struggle and return to his loving family and supportive employees (who he abandoned) to live happily ever after, as the movie portrayed. A pioneer for circuses and shows across the world, Barnum’s career started from a lesser-known, racist beginning. He “rented” an old African-American woman, Joice Heth, and exhibited her as George Washington’s old nurse of 161 years old, to gain fame. Although slavery was outlawed in the North, where Barnum lived, he found a loophole that allowed him to profit off of the dehumanization of Heth.
Still, the musical is an accomplished piece of work, in spite of its ignorance of key aspects to Barnum’s character. Those interested should still watch it, but keep in mind that Barnum was not who the movie shows him to be. The talent in the production of this spectacle deserves to be recognized, so take a break from studying this weekend or treat yourself after finals by experiencing all that is “The Greatest Showman.”