When it comes to movies of recent years that have had true staying power, “The Greatest Showman” is one of the top examples.
Streaming on Disney+ starting Friday, Aug. 14, the colorful biography of circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum is a huge production that stayed potent at the box office well beyond its release during the 2017 holiday season … helped in no small measure by a soundtrack that performed quite powerfully on its own in downloads and sales.
The Barnum part is an ideal fit for Hugh Jackman, who has displayed his song-and-dance mastery on numerous occasions. In real life, Barnum likely wasn’t as limber nor tuneful, but a largely musical movie has the license to make that leap — particularly in servicing a star like Jackman — and many facts remain woven in, including Barnum’s role in the career of singer Jenny Lind (played by Rebecca Ferguson).
The solid screenplay by Jenny Bicks and screen-musical veteran Bill Condon (“Chicago,” “Dreamgirls”) traces Barnum’s rise as a museum owner who seeks and hires unusual acts as a means of attracting spectators. He soon labels that collection of performers his “circus,” and his success translates into a rise in social standing that prompts him to abandon the unusual talents he recruited, leaving them to fend for themselves against detractors.
Inevitably, as confirmed by the enduring popularity Barnum’s ventures would have, things turn back around … and it’s all to the credit of the screenwriters and then-debuting director Michael Gracey that the movie is as involving as it is. Admittedly, the great variety of visuals also has a lot to do with that, as does the memorable score.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the songs for “The Greatest Showman,” notching another major success during a period when they also were being praised for their award-winning work on “La La Land” and the stage show “Dear Evan Hansen.” Rendered in the film by Keala Settle as the “bearded lady” of the circus, the “Showman” tune “This Is Me” earned a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination.
It typically takes more than one song for a soundtrack to become such a giant hit, though, and Pasek and Paul certainly came through in this case — also yielding several fine numbers for Jackman and co-stars Michelle Williams (as Barnum’s wife Charity), Zac Efron (as Barnum’s business partner) and Zendaya (as a trapeze artist pursued by the Efron character).
The 19th-century story it tells is timeless, but “The Greatest Showman” is destined to stand the test of time as a hugely entertaining entry in a once-flourishing movie genre that isn’t revisited all that often now.