The Greatest Showman, review: ‘Hugh Jackman’s passion project, where every song’s a showstopper’

PUBLISHED: 11:20 21 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:20 21 December 2017

The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman

The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman

Archant

The Greatest Showman is starry-eyed with the silly, simple joy of being a musical

Two of Hollywood’s defining genres, the musical and the western, went out of fashion around the same time.

In the sixties, big-budget musicals were the equivalent of comic book movies today. But at the end of that decade, they started to flop and ever since then, just like the western, every attempt to make one has been a revival/ a deconstruction/ a reinvention/ the dying gasp of the genre.

La La Land was a reinvention of the deconstruction of the musical, but the Greatest Showman, a musical about circus pioneer P.T Barnum, is something a bit stranger and a bit bolder: it’s a movie adaptation of a Broadway musical, that was never a Broadway musical.

Older readers may remember the 80s Broadway/ West End musical Barnum, with Jim Dale and Michael Crawford in the title role. This is not that musical.

This is Jackman’s passion project which he has been trying to get made for nearly a decade: a proper musical with a new book and nine new songs in an age when movie audiences are accustomed to having their musicals pre-packaged, pre-heard, pre-hummed and with nothing left to chance.

Before being assigned his Wolverine claws, Jackman was primarily a song and dance man and Barnum P.T is an obvious role for him because he is a born ringmaster, a man whose instincts are constantly to throw his arms open and invite audiences to enjoy the show. The film follows his lead.

The story is a largely fact-free rewriting of Barnum’s life as a brisk series of big dramatic gestures, while every song is a belter, a show stopper, so catchy you assume you’ve heard it before. It’s difficult to put on a show when you’re showstopping it every few minutes and its frantic fury to keep you entertained doesn’t leave any time for depth.

The last musical to feature a big top was Moulin Rouge, a much more accomplished and knowing enterprise. But while that smug monstrosity was like being waterboarded with glitter, Greatest Showman is starry-eyed with the silly, simple joy of being a musical.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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