What We Know: The Greatest Showman


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

While most of the American population stays home on Christmas Day, rising in the morning to open presents, eat delicious food, and similar activities, there are others who make their way to the movies for a December 25 movie premiere. This year, they’ll be able to go see the feel-good musical The Greatest Showman. We’ve got the scoop on the holiday flick right here!

From writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, with producers Laurence Mark, Peter Chermin, and Jenno Topping comes as a biographical musical drama telling us the story of P.T. Barnum and the beginnings of the world-famous Barnum and Bailey Circus. Starting with almost nothing, Barnum had a flair for performance and showmanship which he developed into a spectacle to amaze and inspire. The circus eventually evolved into a partnership with the Ringling Brothers to become an even bigger traveling event (which has unfortunately come to an end recently, in May 2017, after 146 years of business). Now, we can learn about the story of this visionary through song and dance!

If you’re not familiar with Barnum, he is described by the film’s director Michael Gracey as, “…the Steve Jobs or the Jay-Z of his time, the original impresario, the original showman.” Born in Connecticut, Barnum began his career in show in 1835. He used his astounding talent to convince a paying public that a blind and paralyzed woman was really the 161-year-old nurse of the country’s first president, George Washington. With Jenny Lind, a talented Swedish opera singer, Barnum helped form the idea of a modern-day megastar in 1850 (with 93 large-scale concerts under the direction of Barnum). Barnum died in 1891, with his circus show living on for many years after him.

While we know Barnum for his development of the circus spectacle, Hugh Jackman said that the original showman offered more than that to modern-day America. Jackman offered, “this idea that you could be who you want to be, that it doesn’t matter where you’re born or what school you went to. And Barnum used a lot of imagination and a hell of a lot of will and mongrel spirit.”

So how did the story of P.T. Barnum become a movie musical to dazzle and entertain us? It began with Hugh Jackman, who was struck with the idea after hosting the 81st Academy Awards (which was produced by the The Greatest Showman’s writer Bill Condon and producer Laurence Mark). The project took hold and was announced in 2009, with Jackman as the lead character – P.T. Barnum himself. By August 2011, Gracey signed on to direct the film, which is set to be his feature debut. However, it wasn’t until five years later in 2016 that casting (apart from Jackman) was able to start, with rehearsals and filming starting in autumn of that year. The delay was due to problems pitching the idea and getting a production company to invest in the project. Movie musicals are notoriously difficult to get on screen, and Gracey was running low on luck until 20th Century Fox decided to back the film, and it was able to take off.

If you’re wondering why the team clung to the musical movie concept, despite the difficulties pitching it, Gracey has an appropriate response. “If you’re going to call it The Greatest Showman, you should play to your strengths and we should make it a musical.” The movie was also described by Gracey as a “passion piece” of Hugh Jackman and, “he championed this film.” Really, who can say no to Wolverine, right? With cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, music by John Debney, and songs written by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the waiting might be worth it!

The film has quite a cast behind it, with Hugh Jackman (Logan) starring as P.T. Barnum, Zac Efron (High School Musical) as Phillip Carlyle, and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as acrobat Anne Wheeler. They are joined by Ellis Rubin as young P.T. Barnum, Michelle Williams as Charity Brown, Skylar Dunn as young Charity, Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind (a part originally written for Anne Hathaway), Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz, Paul Sparks as James Gordon Bennett, Diahann Carroll as Joice Heth, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as WD Wheeler. With a circus film, there’s a circus-sized cast, with other supporting actors including Natasha Liu Bordizzo as Deng Yan, Austyn Johnson as Caroline Barnum, Cameron Seely as Helen Barnum, Fredric Lehne as Mr. Hallet, and Jamie Jackson as Boss.

With a talented cast on screen and creative minds behind the cameras, The Greatest Showman promises to be a wild ride. Director Michael Gracey stated, “The music is a mash-up of musical theater and pop, and the choreography mixes contemporary and classical elements.” The costumes reflect this musical movie mash-up (so don’t expect historical accuracy with the aesthetics of the film). The film makers are ready to present good feelings and fun through music and creativity!

If that’s not enough to pull you in, perhaps this statement from Hugh Jackman will be the clincher. “It started as a movie about the power of imagination and will and never giving up on your dreams. It grew into a deeper idea that what makes you different makes you special.” (And really, isn’t that what we all want to hear?)

Here’s a trailer to wet your whistle while you wait!

The Greatest Showman was originally set to release last Christmas, however, the premiere of La La Land would have led to unlikely musical competition within the movie industry, which would have been both unexpected and unnecessary. The Greatest Showman bowed out to premiere this year instead, set for release in the United States on December 25, and for a January 1, 2018 premiere in the U.K.

Be sure to circle the date on your calendar, so you can see The Greatest Showman this holiday season!

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