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The Greatest Showman ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Greatest Showman ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

He was a dreamer who refused to live the dreary, conventional life that most of us live. He was Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum, a show business impresario who lived from 1810 to 1891. He grew up poor and, as a man, had difficulty finding his place in the world. After several failed attempts at earning a living, he opened a museum of oddities (wax figures and a guillotine) in New York, but, when nobody wanted to see it, he added live “curiosities,” which, in the parlance of the age, was known as a “freak show.” He hired a Tom Thumb midget, a bearded lady who could sing, a fat man (he’s 500 pounds but we’ll add some padding and say it’s 750), a lady albino, Siamese twins, a dog boy, a tattooed man, a giant (he’s really tall but we’ll add even more to his height), and other oddities that people, loving the macabre and the “different,” would pay money to see. The freak show was the beginning of P.T. Barnum’s success.

Of course, it was no time before Barnum began receiving unfavorable press coverage for his “exploitation” of the “unfortunate” individuals in his show. People threw rocks in the street at the “freaks.” The show was considered lowbrow and tasteless, but that didn’t keep the crowds of people from flocking to see it. Soon, P.T. Barnum achieved the kind of notoriety he had always wanted. He bought a splendid mansion on the same street where his wife’s parents lived. Taking his show to London to meet Queen Victoria was the pinnacle of his success. In London, he met the famous singer, Jenny Lind, known as the “Swedish Nightingale.” He brought the beautiful Miss Lind across the Atlantic to tour the United States and began what many perceived as a love affair with her, adding marital infidelity to his growing list of transgressions.

He had other problems, of course, including a fire in his theatre, financial reverses that resulted in the loss of his home, and, always, being snubbed and dismissed by “society.” In the way of movie musicals, though, he is able to overcome adversity with his winning smile and his genuine affection for people. “There is no more noble pursuit,” he said, “than making people happy.”

The Greatest Showman is a singing and dancing extravaganza that is more a fantasy than the realistic story of a man’s life. The music and dancing are definitely of the modern variety and do not reflect the styles or tastes of nineteenth century America. It’s not the traditional movie musical like My Fair Lady, but is more like La La Land or Moulin Rouge. For two hours, forget you are a raging sophisticate and enjoy the sights and sounds of the pretty people on the big screen singing and dancing themselves into a frothing frenzy.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp


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