Years ago, I experienced one of the “greatest” performances ever actualized on the stage, Hugh Jackman in “The Boy from Oz”, a dynamo of incredible proportions, he sang, danced, played the piano and flawlessly morphed into every stage of songwriter Peter Allen’s career; an unimaginable exploit, anchored forever in my archival theatric treasures. “The Greatest Showman” is not in that league but it serves its purpose as slice of fluff for the holidays; reminiscent of simpler, non- accusatory times, before smothering technology: telephones, both land and cell, television, internet, tweets and ubiquitous connectedness; here’s a Grand Marnier soufflé, in need of a little more liquor but tasty nonetheless.
Hugh Hackman is pungently energetic as P. T. Barnum (1810-1891) founder of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus (1871-2017); sublimely talented lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land”, “Dear Evan Hansen”) provide fanciful fodder for Jackman’s keen agility and a platform for actors Michelle Williams (Charity Barnum), Zac Efron (Philip Carlyle), Zendaya (Anne Wheeler), Rebecca Ferguson (Jenny Lind), to strut (aka Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling) their unevaluated acuity.
Director Michael Gracey’s prescience in focusing on the life-force of Barnum’s genius, bringing to light the plight of the unaccepted, disenfranchised, ignored and shunned for their distinctions, aberrations; the heartening scenes with the bearded lady (Keala Settle) and fellow anomalies are joyously gratifying.
“The Greatest Showman” takes license with fact versus fiction; Barnum’s complexities are largely ignored: he was much older during the time recognized, Charity was his second wife; politically savvy, he switched from the Democratic Party (1824-1854) to the Republican (Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump); contrary to legend, there is no evidence that he stated, “there’s a sucker born every minute”. These flimsy obfuscations, easy to ignore, are secondary to the inventive, whimsical glee felt by smiling audiences, who for a brief hiatus, experienced happiness.