Words: Giulia Lombardo
‘The Greatest Showman’ arrived in cinemas at the end of December 2017, when the year was almost over, and the original soundtrack of the movie caught everyone by surprise. The film, directed by Michael Gracey, is a musical inspired by the real story of Phineas Taylor Barnum, the founder of Ringling Bros, an American art entertainment company from the early 20th century. But most importantly, through his company called Barnum & Bailey Circus, he was the one who invented the circus.
The role of P.T Barnum is played by the incredible Hugh Jackman (fans of superhero movies will never forget his performance as Wolverine for the ‘X-Men’ saga), supported by the star-studded cast, that includes the former ‘High School Musical’ star Zac Efron, together with Michelle Williams, Zendaya, and Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson.
What makes ‘The Greatest Showman’ special, it’s definitely the message it wants to send out: that tenacity, hard work, and optimism enable us to achieve our wildest dreams. Those themes are embodied perfectly in the album opener The Greatest Show, which can be considered the proper anthem of the movie. Lyrics like “impossible comes true, it’s taking over you/Oh, this is the greatest show” underline P.T. Barnum’s dream of having the circus as a safe place that can be a home for society’s misfits, and this is what the movie is all about. It aims to convey a sense of belonging for those who believe they don’t belong anywhere.
Like any great musical, the soundtrack plays a prominent role in ‘The Greatest Showman’. It was composed by John Debney, author of the music for the live-action remake of ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘The Ice Age – On a Collision Course’, ‘Iron Man 2’, and many other films. The original songs, however, are written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, also authors of the incredible soundtrack of ‘La la land’. Among the tracks of ‘The Greatest Showman’, the one that – personally – stands out the most is This is me, sung by Keala Settle, who won the Golden Globe as “Best original song from Film” and which was also nominated for Oscars in the same category. This particular song is also crucial for the reading of the movie since it carries on delivering the important message of belonging, showcasing the beauty of individuality and the courage necessary to persevere.
In A Million Dreams – the second track of the album – P.T. Barnum and his wife, Charity (played by actor/singer Michelle Williams), encourage themselves and others to “live in a world that we design”. Chase our happiness while shrugging off the criticism received by the ones who don’t dare to dream, and that might “call us crazy.” The song recognizes the power of dreaming, telling us that through pursuing the ideas of our wildest dreams we can make the world as we desire it to be. This song is also a promise to Barnum’s family about the world he hopes and intends to create for them.
Furthermore, the album includes tracks like Come Alive, The Other Side, Tightrope (one of my absolute favourites), and From Now On, but the most rousing and actual showstopper songs of the soundtrack must be Rewrite the Stars and Never Enough.
In the incredible Rewrite the Stars, sung by Zac Efron and Zendaya, the empowering message their two characters want to send out is the one of an interracial couple battling against cultural norms of the time to pursue a relationship. In the movie, the scene takes place in the circus ring with an amazing trapeze performance by Zendaya’s character Anne, which gave the entire scene an even more enchanting and goosebumpy feel.
The song is, in fact, a roller-coaster of emotions, and the lyrics bounce from looking at the problem from first one perspective (the one of Efron’s character, representing high society), then the other (Anne’s, tired to experience, as a black girl, prejudice and discrimination), followed by an attempt to make things work between them.
You can’t fail to be touched by the song because of the excellent performances from Zac Efron and Zendaya, but mostly for the important message it conveys.
Never Enough is arguably the most iconic vocal performance of the entire film. In the movie we see Rebecca Ferguson as the world-renowned singer Jenny Lind, whose singing voice was taken over by The Voice contestant Loren Allred, that replaced Ferguson’s vocals in postproduction. Never Enough is a true knockout, and it truly hits you right in the feels. In the movie, Jenny Lind stands on stage, alone, with the whole theatre looking at her, and they were all haunted, enchanted by her dreamy voice.
The emotions conveyed by the breathtaking song are reinforced not only by the glorious setting that sees Lind on stage with the entire audience totally bewitched by her voice, but especially by P.T Barnum’s stunned and fascinated look he has once Lind starts singing, which it’s actually a great representation of all our reactions (or at least of mine). Also, there is an important moment for Efron and Zendaya’s characters, because in the scene it shows them falling in love, but at the same time realising that they will never be together because of the society they live in; what’s amazing about this scene is that all of us watching can feel this sense of enchantment, of love, of glory, all at once.
To conclude, we can say that ‘The Greatest Showman’ has one of those soundtracks that literally leave you speechless for their perfect intensity and synergy. In this film, nothing is out of place and the music accompanies the images with an overwhelming energy and really exciting original songs. Surely, these songs will remain unforgettable, once you hear them you never stop humming and some tracks become part of you for their deep truth and the emotions they convey. Extraordinary music, accompanied by innovation in the world of musicals and a daydream feel from start to finish.
You can listen to ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack here: