Rewriting the stars: New musical reshapes rags-to-riches story

By Elspeth Macnab-Stark
Times-News correspondent

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This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Hugh Jackman in a scene from "The Greatest Showman." [Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox via The Associated Press

   Despite a reportedly inaccurate portrayal,   award-winning actor and Broadway star Hugh   Jackman delivers an outstanding performance   as P.T. Barnum, the creator of the first circus,     in the film “The Greatest Showman.”
The story  follows Barnum as he rises from a homeless, hungry orphan to a famed ringmaster. Inspired  only by his own imagination, Barnum  searches for the oddest of the odd  and  puts them on show for the world to see.  In  the mid-1800s, circus “sideshows” were new and strange, and people were unsure of   whether to love or fear them. As he navigates   his new life, tries to find time for his family,   fends off protestors, and tries not to lose sight   of his dream, Barnum learns who his friends really are “when the glitter fades.”
Starring alongside Jackman, Zac Efron plays his business partner and eventual replacement, Carlyle. Rebecca Ferguson is Jenny Lind, the opera singer who lures him into a world of fame and fortune. Michelle Williams is his loyal and loving wife, and Zendaya is a trapeze artist and love interest for Carlyle. The cast is rounded off with a host of other extremely talented actors, filling the roles of the rest of Barnum’s troupe.
Critics are saying Barnum’s legacy is whitewashed and, though the songs are catchy, the story is vastly off base. While they are not wrong about the story being highly fictionalized, the aim of the entertainment industry is to do exactly that — to entertain. If you want a full and factually accurate version of the story, head to the encyclopedia, not the cinema.
For first-time time director Michael Gracey, “The Greatest Showman” will no doubt be his break into the business. While the storytelling at times lacks originality and the plot follows a fairly predictable archetypal path, it is nevertheless a musical, which almost gives it a free pass. Musicals are all about dreaming big, rooting for the underdogs and singing your heart out.
“Showman” sees “La La Land” lyricists Justin Paul and Benj Pasek take a second swing at a big screen musical, and even critics aren’t arguing with their success. The soundtrack is what carries the story, seeing you through to the end of the film without missing a beat. At the end of the day, I know what I’ll be singing in the shower from now on.

Elspeth Macnab-Stark is a high-school graduate and a Teens & 20s writer.

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