Step right up … and into the spellbinding imagination of a man who set out to reveal that life itself can be the most thrilling show of all, as Hugh Jackman stars as Phineas Taylor Barnum in The Greatest Showman.
Inspired by the legend and ambitions of America’s original pop-culture impresario, P.T. Barnum, comes an inspirational rags-to-riches tale of a brash dreamer who rose from nothing to prove that anything you can envision is possible and that everyone, no matter how invisible, has a stupendous story worthy of a world-class spectacle.
Australian filmmaker Michael Gracey makes his feature film directorial debut with The Greatest Showman, a story that, in the larger-than-life spirit of Barnum, bursts into a boldly imagined fictional realm, one full of infectious pop tunes, glam dances and a celebration of the transformative power of showmanship, love and self-belief.
Gracey braids together original songs by Academy Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) with a multi-talented cast headed by Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman to immerse audiences in the very origins of mass entertainment and mega-celebrities. The result is a chance to enter the newly electrified world of America’s post-Civil War Gilded Age – through the viscerally contemporary lens of the pop culture just igniting then.
P.T. Barnum may have lived over a century ago, but for Gracey, he was a progenitor of our times. He sees Barnum as a pioneer of today’s visionaries and entrepreneurs who’ve revolutionized social life, the Steve Jobs or Jay-Z of his day. The film is a musical reverie, an ode to dreams, not a biopic. But at its center is Barnum’s conviction that the drudgery of everyday life is something you can bust through into a realm of wonder, curiosity and the joys of being proudly different.
Most of all Gracey hoped to key into the feeling of that moment of personal inspiration or acceptance when life seems grander than you ever expected. “When audiences came to experience a P.T. Barnum spectacle, they were completely transported out of the ordinary, and we try to do the same in this film in a contemporary way,” says Gracey.
Jackman, who devoted himself for years to bring the film to the screen, adds: “It’s not exaggerating to say that Barnum ushered in modern-day America – and especially the idea that your talent, your imagination and your ability to work hard should be the only things that determine your success.”
“He knew how to make something out of nothing, how to turn lemons into lemonade. I’ve always loved that quality. He followed his own path, and turned any setback he had into a positive. So many things I aspire to in my life are embodied in this one character.”
The Greatest Showman also touches on another idea of these times: that of chosen families built around allowing people to express who they are without reservation. “A big idea in the film is that your real wealth is the people that you surround yourself with and the people who love you,” says Gracey.
“Barnum pulled people together who the world might otherwise have ignored. And by bringing each of these people into the light he created a family who were always going to be there for each other. In the course of the film, Barnum almost loses both his real family and his circus family – but then you watch him discover that the most important thing he can do is bring them both back together again.”
An all-star cast joins Jackman including: Zac Efron as Barnum’s partner – Phillip; four-time Academy Award-nominee Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife – Charity; Rebecca Ferguson as Swedish superstar – Jenny Lind, and Zendaya as the trapeze artist – Anne Wheeler.
The behind-the-scenes team includes two-time Academy Award-nominated director of photography Seamus McGarvey; three-time Academy Award-nominated production designer – Nathan Crowley, and costume designer – Ellen Mirojnick. The score is by Oscar-nominated composer John Debney and John Trapanese.
The Greatest Showman screens nationally from Boxing Day (26 December 2917).
Image: Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman star in The Greatest Showman – photo by Niko Tavernise