The Greatest Showman

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Atlantic, 2017

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/27/2018

It’s usually pretty easy to predict which films will succeed at the box office. If a movie’s main character is a superhero, you can expect big numbers. Same goes for Pixar’s G-rated animated features, Judd Apatow comedies, and Michael Bay’s latest parade of explosions. But if you guessed that a musical biopic about P.T. Barnum would rake in over $400 million, you should probably head to Vegas right now.

Defying conventional expectations, The Greatest Showman took the nation by storm, wooing its predicted audience (theater kids) and then, largely through word of mouth, seemingly everyone else. With upbeat, polished musical numbers, flashy choreography, and a notorious disregard for historical accuracy, moviegoers were swept away by Hugh Jackman’s charming Barnum and his diverse cast of circus performers. Having seen the movie, I was among the many who spent the end credits on iTunes purchasing the soundtrack. Like its film counterpart, it’s overproduced, self-indulgent…and downright delightful.

Opening with the bombastic “The Greatest Show,” the soundtrack sets the tone with a noisy ensemble performance featuring everything from Jackman’s tenor to brass instruments to the roars of lions. As an opener, it captures the charm of Barnum’s sensationalism, though admittedly loses some of its power without the movie’s accompanying choreography (a problem throughout the soundtrack.) Curiously, the reprise that ends the film is merged with the opening number on the soundtrack, which will be seamless for those who haven’t seen the movie but a questionable move for those who have.nbtc__dv_250

My favorite number follows, with child star Ziv Zaifman splendidly opening the song as a young P.T. Barnum before handing the reins over to his adult counterpart Jackman and movie wife (and Broadway vet) Michelle Williams. This song is the one that, more than any other, captures the charm of the movie, bottling childlike joy and wonder and then setting it to a catchy tune. If you only listen to one song from the soundtrack, it should be this one.

The movie, which largely ignores Barnum’s real-life foibles, comes closest to hinting at them with the raffish “Come Alive,” in which he recruits his “freak show” of circus performers, and “The Other Side,” a duet with Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle that has the two bargaining over a potential partnership. Both songs are upbeat, bouncy numbers that keep things moving and set your toes tapping, and the chemistry between Jackman and Efron comes through in this case even without the choreography.

Things slow down with Loren Allred’s “Never Enough,” a virtuoso vocal performance that middle school girls will likely be massacring at choir recitals for years to come.  While the backing instrumentals are laughably overproduced, Allred’s voice nevertheless soars. The same goes for Keala Settle’s “This Is Me,” a gospel-tinged empowerment anthem that you can’t help but love due to the strength of Settle’s voice.

The song best suited for radio is “Rewrite the Stars,” which pairs Disney Channel alums Zac Efron and Zendaya for a soulless, by-the-numbers pop song that spotlights Zendaya more than Efron and needs its film choreography to be totally convincing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice enough song, but it lacks the charisma of Jackman’s performances and ultimately comes across less as a premiere performance than a required moment for the movie’s young stars.

The soundtrack fizzles at the end with “Tightrope,” a dull waste of Michelle Williams’ vocal talent, and “From Now On,” which starts with Jackman’s melancholy verses sung so softly that you have to crank your volume up just to hear it and ends with what should be a triumphant chorus from the ensemble that needs its film context to really move the listener. Concluding with a reprise of “The Greatest Showman,” as the film does, would have closed things out with more of a bang.

All in all, The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack mirrors its movie counterpart: it’s a slick, overproduced, but ultimately winning collection of songs that wins the hearts of a hundred preteens for every critic who scorns its faults. Hugh Jackman and company shine with earnest charm, and only the most hardhearted listener will finish the soundtrack without smiling once.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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