by Mo Brady
Yes, The Greatest Showman is a great movie musical.
Yes, the songs are written by theatre's star composing team, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Yes, the cast is expertly led by Broadway and Hollywood star Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum.
But beneath the hype is the heart of a traditional stage musical, brought to life by a company of Broadway experts.
Headed by the powerful Tony Award nominee Keala Settle as the Bearded Lady, The Greatest Showman features almost two dozen actors as the various “freaks” Barnum employees in his circus. As an ensemble, they work together to reflect the rise and fall of Barnum from outcast to toast of the town. Featured both in dialogue scenes and musical numbers, their work together shows the audience the human side of the world’s most famous circus impresario.
The movie features a true ensemble of performing artists portraying Barnum’s troupe of Oddities, including Hamilton’s Christina Glur, Frozen’s Timothy Hughes, Newsies’ Alex Wong and Escape to Margaritaville’s Julius A. Rubio. Each performer is dressed in their own unique and striking costume, hair and make-up, creating a melange of unforgettable and distinct personalities.
It’s hard to remember choreography more electric than what Ashley Wallen gives us in The Greatest Showman. Seen on Broadway only once before in Ghost The Musical, this Australian-born choreographer brings movement typically seen in concerts for Kylie Minogue or Mariah Carey seamlessly to a more theatrical setting. The movements employed give power and authority to the dancers. Assisted by Jenny Griffin, the staging for every number is truly spectacular. It’s easy to see how Barnum’s audiences would be amped up by this intoxicating choreography.
While the screenplay is certainly suited for the film, the staging is reminiscent of traditional musicals. This gives us the chance to see the full bodies of dancers to appreciate the strength of the movement and the expertise of the staging. The cinematography also as plays with slow-motion in a way that truly made me audibly gasp in excitement.
Supported by Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire as Executive Music Producer, the ensemble vocal arrangements are a thrilling addition to the music numbers. Each number featuring the ensemble builds and thrills the audience, both those portraying circusgoers as well as us modern-day moviegoers.
Thanks, in part, to casting by Broadway casting powerhouse Telsey + Company, we also get to see a bevy of theatre actors in small roles outside of the circus, including American Psycho’s Morgan Weed, A Bronx Tale’s Michael Barra and Doctor Zhivago’s Jamie Jackson as Barnum’s boss.
One of the joys of watching the musical numbers is seeing how seamlessly the movie’s stars blend into the chorus. With each of the Oddities dressed so extravagantly, you can almost forget that pop superstar Zendaya is included among the performers. With a roster of world-class artists in all of the roles, each and every performance contributes to the The Greatest Showman’s incredible success.