The Greatest Showman is a perfect film.
Yeah, I know it may not be historically accurate to the true-life story of the legendary P.T. Barnum. But it doesn’t claim to be anything but what it is … a movie. There’s no “based on a true story” at the beginning of the film. And come on, The Perfect Storm made this claim years ago … a true story? Seriously? With no one living to tell the tale? Please.
In a world that spends too much of its time focusing on the negative, The Greatest Showman is Hope. It’s Joy. It celebrates Uniqueness and welcomes the Outcast to the big screen. It’s Kindness. It smears the line when Racism divides. It admits Mistakes and offers Forgiveness. It Dreams. And it does so in Technicolor with an infectious musical score that I bought on iTunes only moments after returning home from the film … and my daughter and I play constantly.
The Greatest Showman is a phenomenon, drawing more people to the theaters weeks after its initial debut than during its initial release. And why is that? Because in a world where drama, dissatisfaction and intolerance seems to abide, people want to remember there is Joy, Hope, Forgiveness, Kindness and Acceptance. They want to know that despite their scars, darkness, mistakes and individuality, they are still welcome … that the world will not stifle what they have to offer.
Many years ago, my family took a summer vacation to Washington DC. We did all the “standard” stuff, touring the Smithsonian, monuments and historical sites. Then, one day, we decided to visit The Kennedy Center. During our tour, we were admitted to take a look at the revered Lincoln Theatre. And what met our eyes was truly miraculous.
The entire theatre looked like a circus. The stage glittered with color, decorated in the grand style of all things spectacular — including a tightrope, a unicycle and a high-flying dangling trapeze. The tour guide explained to us that the musical Barnum, starring Stacy Keach, was performing that evening. My dad didn’t hesitate. He headed to the box office to purchase tickets for the show immediately.
I was in junior high at the time, but there are many things I recall about that evening. I remember walking in to The Kennedy Center and feeling as though I had entered a carnival. Magicians, fire eaters, jugglers, clowns, balloon artists, and tumblers surrounded us, dressed in red and gold and all the magical colors of the rainbow. My brother and I was mesmerized. Quickly, he was collected by a magician to assist with a trick … you know the one. They have rainbow colored streamers in their mouth and you help pull it out … and out and out and out. Jeff pulled and pulled and pulled, fascinated. And I giggled beside him.
Soon, he wore a balloon hat. It looked fabulous with his blue leisure suit. I have a photo of him in that hat, holding a Barnum banner — a banner that hung in his room for many a year. I have a framed poster of the musical on my wall. The production was magical. The prince of humbug, PT Barnum, reminded us that there’s a sucker born every minute … that we crave surprise and magic … that we long for bright colors and production numbers to brighten our days. He walked a tightrope. He sang. He juggled. And he sported that Red Coat with the gold trim and a top hat.
Now, it’s been a long time since I saw that production. But the memory of that darkened theatre and all the pageantry that arose once the lights came up is as vibrant as ever.
Hugh Jackman fought for The Greatest Showman for seven years. He fought to bring a musical to the large screen. He fought to bring the colors and message of this story to an audience. He recognized that The Greatest Showman belonged on the big screen … that it is just the kind of movie and story that our world needs.
And that’s the key. The colors, the uniqueness, the oddness, the strangeness, the scariness of following a dream and daring to believe that you will be welcomed — or at least accepted — by others resonates with each of us no matter who we are. The PT Barnum of The Greatest Showman embraces individuals prone to hide in the darkness and invites them to a place in the center ring. A showman who brings razzle dazzle to the outcasts — and his audience — and reminds us all they we can be celebrated for just who we are. No more hiding in the shadows.
And just when all is going well, Barnum gets caught up. A cavity in his soul opens and he loses site of his intention, his dream and his true friends in an effort to win approval. The vulnerability of a poor man’s son who was never good enough in the eyes of the world (or his father-in-law) takes the stage, and Barnum looks outside for validation.
See, Barnum was an outcast too. And he longed for the acceptance of those who thought him unworthy. And in this quest, he loses site of what is truly important. He abandons his friends to “Get in” with the very people who cut him down to dust. Yet when everything comes apart at the seams, he realizes that it was these outcasts he brought together who were truly more important to him. This family he brought together was true and real. He realized that he had been chasing the wrong thing. And that only by accepting and loving himself as he was could he find that missing piece of his own puzzle.
He comes back. He admits his mistakes. He owns his poor choices. And, he is forgiven and offered another chance. And together, this band of outcasts creates The Greatest Show on Earth.
So, no matter the critics arguments that PT Barnum was no Hugh Jackman … I mean, who is? Jackman’s PT Barnum is the conveyor of dreams. He offers us a marvelous spectacle AND acceptance in a time where many of us are still prone to hide our own imperfections from the light of day. He invites the outcast we hide inside to come into the light. He celebrates our uniqueness and reminds us that though there will always be those who fight and flee from things “different,” there are so many others who find true joy in our world’s amazing carnival.
Each of us has our little oddities and idiosyncrasies that we hide in the darkness. The Greatest Showman reminds us all to honor, accept and celebrate our own glorious individuality. No, I may not be a bearded lady who hides behind a screen when she sings. Nor am I a pink-wigged trapeze artist fighting prejudice because of my color. But, I have my own bruises, scars and quirky uniqueness.
Hugh Jackman’s PT Barnum reminds us that we are Glorious … that it takes all kinds and colors to Rewrite the Stars. That we’re all walking a Tightrope with A Million Dreams. And that This is Me … and I’m good with that.
The Greatest Showman can change your life. Let it …