The Greatest Showman: Reimagined

Various Artists

Atlantic, 2018

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/27/2018

Imagine you’re one of the folks behind The Greatest Showman, the fun musical biopic about P.T. Barnum that somehow become a global phenomenon. DVD sales are slacking, Hugh Jackman has moved on to other projects, and Mary Poppins Returns is about to steal the musical buzz you’ve been clinging to for a year. What do you do?

Atlantic Records’ answer was to grab as many pop stars as they could find and piece together a cover version of the movie’s soundtrack. And for the most part, what you see is what you get: familiar names and rising stars belting out risk-free covers of the songs you’d just started to get out of your head. The Greatest Showman: Reimagined is the cotton candy of music: light, sugary, and free of substance.

Beginning with Panic! at the Disco’s rendition of “The Greatest Show,” you get a feel for what is to come: professional, competent, safe versions of songs that initially wowed you with their whimsy and charm. The harmonies are tight, the production is good, but the sense of wonder that propelled the film and its soundtrack to success is missing. When the band sings, “this is the greatest show,” you don’t quite believe them.

Better in that respect is P!nk’s “A Million Dreams,” which the famously earnest star belts out like someone who knows that of which she sings. Arranged and produced in such a way that you almost forget it wasn’t a P!nk song to begin with, this one feels less like a paycheck and more like a work of passion. Having daughter Willow Sage Hart tag along for the reprise adds to this perception (even if said reprise, at a whopping 48 seconds, is more about the idea than the execution.)nbtc__dv_250

Similarly, Kelly Clarkson manages to work her own brand of pop magic on “Never Enough,” bringing emotion to an arrangement virtually unchanged from the original. Well cast for the song, Clarkson effortlessly outdoes her movie counterpart Loren Allred, bringing warmth, power, and a hint of soul to the song.

Less familiar names are featured as well, though most seem just happy to be there. “Come Alive” is made into a Michael Jackson-esque dance number by Years & Years and Jess Glynne, but other the backing beat, not much has changed from the original version. MAX and Ty Dolla $ign are charming enough in “The Other Side,” but the song’s bouncy back-and-forth deserves more credit than the artists in that regard. And “Rewrite the Stars,” originally performed by bona fide stars Zac Efron and Zendaya, can’t help but suffer by comparison when handed off to B-listers James Arthur and Anne-Marie.

Where this cover album shines is in the few spots where risks are taken, such as in the remix of “This Is Me,” which has Kesha’s cover (featured during the movie’s credits) trade bars with Keala Settle’s original version and then throws some rapped Missy Elliot bridges in for good measure. After the mostly straight covers up to that point, this song jumps out at you in the best way by doing something different.

Less gutsy but original in its own regard is Sarah Bareilles’s rendition of “Tightrope,” in which she takes one of the original soundtrack’s least memorable tunes and gives it a breathy gravitas from the production booth, layering in harmonies and echo effects. This is perhaps the best example of both reimagining and improving upon one of the original soundtrack’s songs, no surprise given Bareilles’s experience in both pop and Broadway.

But the standout track, the one that you’ll return to again and again, is the Zac Brown Band’s take on “From Now On,” which transforms the movie’s triumphal closing number into a folksy bluegrass tune –and wow, does it work. Without ever losing the joy that marked the original (and, I should note, sung at a volume where you can actually hear the opening verse, unlike Hugh Jackman’s version), the band stays true to their voice. The result is perhaps the ideal cover, one that honors the original song without resorting to simple mimicry.

All in all, The Greatest Showman: Reimagined is at its best when it surprises you – which, unfortunately, is not often. Well produced, professionally performed, most of these covers hit the low bar of sounding good without reaching for the higher rung of making a mark on the listener. Give these tunes a listen, by all means, but with a few exceptions, you won’t need to listen more than once.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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