BWW Album Review: THE GREATEST SHOWMAN Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Has All The Shine of A Thousand Spotlights
Step right up! Come enter the big top and take a listen to the newest attraction, the original motion picture soundtrack for the forthcoming 20th Century FOX blockbuster, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Set in the mid-1800s, the musical drama tells the biographical story of the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, P.T. Barnum, and the lives of those associated with its inception. Jam packed with new original music from Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, the major motion picture is rounded out with talent from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya and Keala Settle. Atlantic Records released the album physically and digitally on December 8, 2017. The film, already nominated three Golden Globes, hits theaters December 20, 2017. Taking the famous P.T. Barnum quote into consideration, "the noblest art is that of making others happy", this soundtrack and film can certainly be dubbed as the "noblest art".
The album kicks off with the adrenaline inducing "The Greatest Show". Dripping with hype, the onset of fanfare introduces us to Hugh Jackman's P.T. Barnum. If it was ever possible, this track embodies the ability to hear a spectacle. Between the bleacher stomping and the roaring lions, Jackman, Efron, Settle, and Zendaya lead the impeccable ensemble of voices. The soft start amps up into an unmatched intensity, and kicks off the album with a strong sense of vitality and vivaciousness.
As many know, the golden rule of writing a musical is that every song should advance the plot. Composer and lyricist duo Pasek and Paul do a flawless job of that. This film is perfect capstone and a incredible creative year for the two, being fresh off Oscar and Tony wins for their original music in film LA LA LAND and Broadway hit DEAR EVAN HANSEN, respectively. Pasek and Paul have a way of not overwhelming the plot with their music, but instead mastering the balancing act of using it to tell the story effectively and proficiently. They serve up a hearty portion of gorgeous melodies and toe tapping beats that introduce and immerse the listeners to the world of P.T. Barnum and company. Their music is a perfect vehicle of expression for these performers as well.
Having recently received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Barnum, Hugh Jackman is truly the perfect ringleader. His delivery embodies the cadence and energy of a true musical master. His performance is rife with character and integrity, and you can hear the resolutions and revelations in the inflections of his voice alone. He conveys the dreamers desperation in "A Million Dreams", shares a consciousness of resolution in "From Now On", and is a perfect example of a coy entrepreneur in "The Other Side". In the latter of those tracks, Jackman is juxtaposed in duet with Zac Efron's portrayal of Phillip Carlyle. The song details Barnum trying to convince the incredulous Carlyle in joining him as business partners. Jackman's enticing offer and Efron's intrigue is presented with catchy lyricism and intrepid rhymes, like "I live among the swells and we don't pick up peanut shells", and "forget the cage because we know how to make the key", to name a few. If the beat of the track was not infectious enough, add the two actors singing along and tap dancing on a bar and you have it made.
This film marks Zac Efron's triumphant return to the movie musical. The sad, dark eight years of him not singing and dancing on screen has finally been flooded with the light of this triumphant performance. This album captures new colors of Efron's voice. This movie also shows a new and welcomed side from Efron. His vocal and acting performance is a total departure from his more recent film repertoire. He brings a tremendous amount of charm, sincerity, and humanity to the part. This is especially explicit and exemplified in his duet with the remarkable Zendaya, "Rewrite the Stars". The two former Disney Channel stars take their star turn with the track that is arguably one of the best on the album. The song is structured brilliantly (thank you, Pasek and Paul) with the call and response nature between the two. This melancholy track, chronicling the forbidden love between them, is a shining example of the vocal ability and expertise of both Efron and Zendaya. This album is concrete evidence of Efron's growth as an actor and performer, and proves that he really got his head in the game, or in this case, circus.
The other track in contention for best on the album is the Keala Settle led number "This Is Me". Settle, known for her array of Broadway credits including WAITRESS and LES MISERABLES, gives an impeccable vocal performance as Lettie the bearded lady. The songs is truly a showstopping (moviestopping?) moment. To no surprise, the track was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. The lyrics speak volumes to the message and moral of the story, centering on a man, who took a chance on putting the spotlight on the outsiders to shine in ways they never knew possible. The affirmational lyrics "when the sharpest words wanna cut me down, gonna send a flood gonna drown them out. I am brave, I am proof, I am who I'm meant to be, this is me. Look out 'cause here I come and I'm marching on to the beat I drum. I'm not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me" makes it a certifiable anthem for the outsider.
The film and its music speak life and resolve into the dreamer in all of us. The tale about acceptance and leading with love in life is accentuated with an infectious batch of songs that tell the big top tale. Pasek and Paul fly to new heights on this one. Laced with showmanship and bravado, the cast exhibits talents that can't be caged. The album is an exceptional example of what a movie musical soundtrack should be. In other words, as Jackman sings repeatedly, "it's everything you'd ever want, it's everything you'd ever need" in a movie musical.