So many of my friends loved The Greatest Showman. My FaceBook feed was full of encomiums for weeks before I made it to a big screen theatre. I think I know why. It has to be the love story between a tall, handsome, talented and charismatic leading man and a beautiful blonde woman that brought my friends home cheering. A lot of us feel like love as a possibility, much less an actuality, has been maligned in movies far too much. The love in this movie created the sense of a solid base for Barnum’s soaring imagination, a grounding that made his ambitions exciting rather than terrifying.
I loved watching Hugh Jackman and Zendaya dance. Every time they came on the screen I felt riveted. Has to be those long narrow bodies, because Zac Efron was very good—but when he took over Jackman’s role, he didn’t have the body lines like the other two.
The music and the choreography in The Greatest Showman are right out of 21st century Las Vegas, which has its merits, I suppose. It sells. But it felt so out of sync with the 1890s costumes. And fairly tuneless. Introducing Jennie Lind as an opera singer and then having her sing in a completely antithetical style did NOT work. Recapturing the allure of Jennie Lind, who caressed melodies in a soaring lyric soprano, is a treasure the movie missed. I wanted the big musical numbers to have melodies you take out of the movie humming. Music in the style of the time, updated for modern sensibilities, because I can go to Vegas if I want to get what this movie gave us.
On the other hand, I don’t care that Hugh Jackman’s character had very little to do with the real P.T. Barnum. Or that his two little girls didn’t age. That’s because I went to the movie hoping for the enchantment of a circus. With animals. Lions that roar. Elephants that obey. Horses and trick riders. Dogs jumping through hoops of fire. Clowns. There wasn’t one single clown! All those wonderful circus acts that are no more. That’s what I truly wanted. A real circus.