There’s no business like it, now prepare to discover the origins of show-business itself in Michael Gracey’s glitzy new 19th-Century musical. Here are the facts…
Spoilers may follow.
What’s it about?
Phineas Taylor Barnum hit rock bottom in 1834 when the banning of lotteries in Connecticut brought his business to an instant end. Relocating his family to New York a year later, Barnum embarked on a new venture that would – eventually – go on to strum up a global phenomenon.
The Greatest Showman tells the story of how P. T. Barnum gathered together a troupe of outsiders to revolutionise the travelling circus, in a spectacular musical drama.
Barnum knew how to work a crowd and his so-called ‘freak show’ was infamous. His first act was born in 1835, when he bought an elderly slave named Joice Heth and exhibited her far and wide under the claim that she was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington.
From a 25in tall four-year-old (‘General Tom Thumb’) to an 11 1/2ft elephant (‘Jumbo’), Barnum’s menagerie rapidly in size, scale and popularity. There were critics, of course, and a devastating fire too, but Barnum was a risk taker, as The Greatest Showman will display.
Who’s in it?
Putting his vocal chords into good use for the first time since 2012’s Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman leads the cast as Barnum – and has done since the film was first announced way back in 2009. His wife, Charity, is Manchester By The Sea‘s Michelle Williams, whilst newcomers Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely play the Barnum children: Caroline and Helen.
Rebecca Ferguson (Life, The Snowman) stars too as real-life Swedish opera singer Jenny Lynd – a role for which Carey Mulligan and Ellen Page were previously considered.
Other stars include Zac Efron – in his fifth musical – Zendaya (MJ from Spiderman: Homecoming actually performing on a trapeze here) and Keala Settle, whilst Paul Sparks plays New York Herald founder James Gordon Bennett Sr.
Who’s made it?
The film marks the directorial debut of erstwhile visual effects supervisor Michael Gracey, working from a script by Sex and the City‘s Jenny Bicks and the marvellous maestro behind this year’s Beauty and the Beast re-make Bill Condon.
Musicals fly or die on the strength of their songs but The Greatest Showman has the Oscar-winning songwriters of La La Land – Benj Pasek and Justin Paul – on the task, so there’s promise here. Intriguingly, the duo have gone down the Baz Luhrmann route, opting for contemporary-styled tunes over period pieces. The music, meanwhile, has been scored by John Debney and Joseph Trapanese.
The Northern Irish cinematographer of Tom Ford’s dazzling Nocturnal Animals is on board, with Intersteller‘s Nathan Crowley on production design and Logan Lucky‘s Ellen Mirojnick diving, once again, into the costume wardrobe.
When’s it out?
Barnum’s circus will be coming to town on Boxing Day (26 December) in the UK. This follows initial releases in South Korea, Taiwan and the USA six days earlier.
Watch the trailer here: