THE GREATEST SHOWMAN
About The Production
Step right up...and into the spellbinding imagination of a man who set out to
reveal that life itself can be the most thrilling show of all. Inspired by the
legend and ambitions of America's original pop-culture impresario, P.T. Barnum,
comes an inspirational rags-to-riches tale of a brash dreamer who rose from
nothing to prove that anything you can envision is possible and that everyone,
no matter how invisible, has a stupendous story worthy of a world-class
Australian filmmaker Michael Gracey makes his feature film directorial debut
with The Greatest Showman, a story that, in the larger-than-life spirit of
Barnum, bursts into a boldly imagined fictional realm, one full of infectious
pop tunes, glam dances and a celebration of the transformative power of
showmanship, love and self-belief. Gracey braids together original songs by
Academy Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) with a
multi-talented cast headed by Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman to immerse
audiences in the very origins of mass entertainment and mega-celebrities in the
70s ... the 1870s that is. The result is a chance to enter the newly electrified
world of America's post-Civil War Gilded Age -- through the viscerally
contemporary lens of the pop culture just igniting then.
P.T. Barnum may have lived over a century ago, but for Gracey, he was a
progenitor of our times. He sees Barnum as a pioneer of today's visionaries and
entrepreneurs who've revolutionized social life, the Steve Jobs or Jay-Z of his
day. The film is a musical reverie, an ode to dreams, not a biopic. But at its
center is Barnum's conviction that the drudgery of everyday life is something
you can bust through into a realm of wonder, curiosity and the joys of being
proudly different. Most of all Gracey hoped to key into the feeling of that
moment of personal inspiration or acceptance when life seems grander than you
ever expected. Says Gracey: "When audiences came to experience a P.T. Barnum
spectacle, they were completely transported out of the ordinary, and we try to
do the same in this film in a contemporary way."
Adds Jackman, who devoted himself for years to bring the film to the screen:
"It's not exaggerating to say that Barnum ushered in modern-day America - and
especially the idea that your talent, your imagination and your ability to work
hard should be the only things that determine your success. He knew how to make
something out of nothing, how to turn lemons into lemonade. I've always loved
that quality. He followed his own path, and turned any setback he had into a
positive. So many things I aspire to in my life are embodied in this one
The Greatest Showman also touches on another idea of these times: that of chosen
families built around allowing people to express who they are without
reservation. "A big idea in the film is that your real wealth is the people that
you surround yourself with and the people who love you," says Gracey. "Barnum
pulled people together who the world might otherwise have ignored. And by
bringing each of these people into the light he created a family who were always
going to be there for each other. In the course of the film, Barnum almost loses
both his real family and his circus family - but then you watch him discover
that the most important thing he can do is bring them both back together again."
Twentieth Century Fox presents The Greatest Showman, a Laurence Mark/Chernin
Entertainment production starring Hugh Jackman. Michael Gracey directs from a
screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and a story by Jenny Bicks. The
producers are Laurence Mark, Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping, with James Mangold,
Donald J. Lee, Jr. and Tonia Davis serving as executive producers. Joining with
Jackman are Zac Efron as Barnum's partner, Phillip; four-time Academy
Award-nominee Michelle Williams as Barnum's wife, Charity; Rebecca Ferguson as
Swedish superstar Jenny Lind and Zendaya as the trapeze artist Anne Wheeler.
The behind-the-scenes team who bring 2017 filmmaking to the start of showbiz
include two-time Academy Award nominated director of photography Seamus
McGarvey; three-time Academy Award-nominated production designer Nathan
Crowley, and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick. The score is by Oscar-nominated
composer John Debney, and John Trapanese.
A DREAM COMES TO LIFE
When you think of Phineas Taylor Barnum today, what probably come instantly to
mind is the three-ring extravaganza that long bore his name. But there is far
more to his collosal legend than the circuses that have since evolved into a new
era (an era that no longer parades endangered animals and human curiosities but
is more about virtuoso athletic and creative performances). Barnum's is the
classic tale of a scrappy American trailblazer, one who pulled himself way up
out of poverty to become not only a master of the brand new arts of image and
promotion but also one of America's first self-made millionaires and the
godfather of mass entertainments designed to set free the imagination.
He may have been born into anonymity, but the whole world would come to know his
name. When P.T. Barnum passed away in 1891, the Washington Post described him as
"the most widely known American that ever lived."
Later, Barnum would be erroneously credited with the infamous quotation "a
sucker is born every minute," which he never said. But he did say: "Whatever you
do, do it with all your might." This was the real appeal of Barnum in his day -
he captured the resilient, risk-taking spirit of changing times. He also
presaged more spectacular times to come as movies, stage shows and digital
technology would continue his explorations of making the implausible and
mythical feel real and achievable. It's no wonder his story and persona have
inspired numerous films - with Barnum being played by Wallace Beery in 1934's
The Mighty Barnum, Burl Ives in 1967's Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon and Burt
Lancaster in 1986's Barnum.
Yet, it has been decades since P.T. Barnum's increasingly visible impact on the
modern world has received a fresh look. That thought struck producer Laurence
Mark and co-screenwriter Bill Condon in 2009 when they were working together on
the Academy Awards broadcast featuring Hugh Jackman as host. Jackman's
irrepressible love of all that goes into forging a dazzling show reminded them
Watching Jackman at work, Mark recalls: "I thought, wow, this guy's the greatest
showman on earth - and that's when I went to P.T. Barnum in my head. Hugh is
just about the only person in the world who could be both Wolverine and P.T.
Barnum, actually. There's just something in Hugh's DNA that allows him to walk
on a stage and take charge of it so easily, naturally and charismatically. I
suggested to him them that we should make a musical about Barnum and it turned
out, he was completely open to it."
It was a fateful proposition. But it would take another seven years and more
than a few twists and turns to turn what was then an ultra-high-risk idea -
especially given that musicals capable of appealing to 21st Century audiences
were then considered an extreme rarity -- into the reality of a full-scale
production replete with songs, choreography and an all-star cast. The process
began with a sweeping screenplay by Jenny Bick, which excavated the period of
Barnum's rise to fame, from his childhood of meager means in Connecticut, to the
romancing of his much wealthier wife Charity, to the founding of Barnum's
American Museum to his championing of one of the world's first superstars: the
"Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind.
Bick's screenplay was an inspiring kick-off. Still, in keeping with Barnum's
adoration of the daring and outsized in all things, the filmmakers decided to go
in search of even more music and more spectacle. That's when Jackman suggested
that Mark see if his friend Bill Condon - renown for his magical screen
adaptations of Chicago and Dreamgirls - could add his own immense writing gifts
in the creation of a musical for these times.
In the meantime, Jackman had met Michael Gracey, who was rapidly rising as a
commercial and music video director with an unusually creative, genre-defying
edge. Jackman was determined to work with him on a feature, and he was sure the
concept of The Greatest Showman was a match made in heaven for Gracey. That
became even more clear once Gracey began pitching the ambitious film across
Hollywood with a fervor that kept even jaded executives rapt.
Says Jackman: "Michael is cutting edge with music and storytelling. He was kind
of a big deal already, and even though he hadn't yet made a film, everybody knew
about him. It's also true that when Michael pitched the story of The Greatest
Showman, he was better than I've ever been playing P.T. Barnum. Michael's vision
is incredible, but also, his determination is like nothing I've ever seen
before. There was no option for him other than this movie getting made."
Gracey's pitch encompassed 45 minutes of spirited storytelling, intricate
concept art and songs. It's part of what won him the deep trust of the
producers, including Laurence Mark as well as Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping of
Chernin Entertainment. "Michael had done so much impressive homework. He already
had sketches and visuals and he spoke about the movie in the most passionate
way," recalls Mark.
It all hit home in part because Gracey truly and personally relates to Barnum's
belief in attempting to squeeze as much excitement out of life as possible. "I
always say that to me one of the saddest moments in any child's life is when
they learn the word 'impossible,'" the director reflects. "Barnum's story is
about not limiting your imagination, about using what's in your head to create
new worlds - and that's also what directors do. You come up with something and
then you spend years and years of trying to realize it, in a process that is
full of heartache but also allows you to truly bring dreams to life."
Gracey was also driven by a fully fleshed-out vision for the film's aesthetic.
He had in mind a Steampunk-like mash-up of the past and the future that placed
Barnum's story outside of period, in a kind of universal world where pop
culture, romance and human connections always hold sway. He wanted some grit,
but he also felt the entire film should be sprinkled over with a touch of
storybook magic - to hark back to the shadows of the imagination that first
inspired humans to suspend their disbelief.
Also vital to Gracey's approach were the Oddities, the circus performers who due
to a variety of uncommon physical conditions allowed Barnum to invite audiences
to encounter living myths. Though such displays would no longer be acceptable in
today's society, Gracey explores another side of what Barnum's performers
experienced - the opportunity to escape hidden, marginal lives; the chance to
inspire admiration and feel pride; and most of all the ability to provoke
questions into just how narrowly we define "normal." "The Oddities are people
who are invisible to society so they've been kept behind closed doors," explains
Gracey. "And what our P.T. Barnum does is give these invisible people a
spotlight and a chance to feel love for the first time. He tells wondrous
stories in which they are not damaged but special. I think audiences will love
the Oddities because at the end of the day, everyone's an Oddity."
He emphasizes: "There's a line where Barnum says, 'No one ever made a difference
by being like everyone else.' That to me is the heart of the film."
The Oddities definitely caught the attention of Zac Efron. He says: "I love that
Barnum is full of love and dreams for his family but then he asks: how can I
spread that love further? He does it by taking people who are not accepted by
society because of the way they look or how they were born and allowing them to
be celebrated and engaged with. He gives them a chance to show that no matter
where you come from or who you are, none of us is really that different -- we're
all just striving people. Barnum allows all the performers in his show to be
proud of themselves."
With Condon having added fertile new layers to the script, there was just one
vital component missing: the ineffable, transporting stuff of the actual songs.
For Gracey, everything hinged on getting that right. "The reason I love musicals
is that when words no longer suffice, that's when you sing. At your lowest
points, when you've lost absolutely everything, you sing. And at your highest
points of inexpressable joy, you break into song again. We knew we needed songs
that could hit those emotional high and low points within this very special
world," Gracey explains.
Gracey intuited that the songs could counterpoint the period setting - rather
than going back in time, he wanted songs that would make the characters and
dilemmas urgently of-the-moment. After commissioning samples from dozens of
songwriters, the team fell in love with the work of two then-fledgling
newcomers: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. This was well before their play "Dear
Evan Hanson" and years in advance of their Oscar-winning work on La La Land.
But what Pasek and Paul offered up was a collection of emotional, high-energy
pop tunes that could be on the radio in 2017. "Benj and Justin showed a rare
ability to combine rock, pop and the contemporary Broadway sound," says Mark.
Adds Gracey: "What Benj and Justin created for this film is to me the best work
they've ever done - and they've done some incredible work. They mix the
contemporay with the classical seamlessly. They really giave the heart and soul
of the film, those emotional highs and lows. They captured the spirit of it so
perfectly. The songs they wrote are always taking you somewhere - each is a
narrative in its own right."
The music also was a magnetic lure for the accomplished cast. Says recording
artist and actor Zendaya, who plays trapeze artist Anne Wheeler: "Benj and
Justin are young and they're fresh and what's so cool about the songs is that
even though our story is set in the 1800's, their work feels completely
contemporary, which I think makes it tangible for people now. It adds an element
of magic,too. You're in a period piece, yet there's also pop songs and hip-hop
dancing, which I think is really dope. It fuses Barnum's time period with our
own. I feel that every single line of the music reflects the soul of the film."
Gracey was grateful for all who committed themselves - from the cast to the
songwriters to the musicians to the incessantly creative crew who never stopped
cultivating the vital details -- to realizing his dream, which was built on the
foundation of Barnum's dreams. "The idea of doing an original musical is pretty
much pure insanity," laughs Gracey. "But the one thing that I will always
remember and hold dear is all the people who signed up for this impossible dream
- who believed in it and brought it to life."
THE SHOWMAN COMETH: HUGH JACKMAN ON PLAYING P.T. BARNUM
"P.T. Barnum is what we would describe now as a disruptor. He thought life
should be all about fun, imagination and hard work," says Hugh Jackman of the
man whose outsized persona he takes on in The Greatest Showman. "Back in 1850,
America wasn't as we know it today. You were limited by the family you were born
into and your class. At the time, the idea of entertainment just for fun was
considered almost borderline evil. But this only fueled Barnum's fire to break
away from this kind of mundane, hamster wheel existence. He set out to live the
life of his dreams. And that is what he did."
Born in Bethel, Connecticut in 1810, the real P.T. Barnum was as complex as his
times, full of contradictory impulses, both humane and opportunistic. He had a
natural flair for publicity and promotion and was already selling lottery
tickets by age 12. Later, he won the hand of his far wealthier wife with his
unalloyed aptitude for razzle-dazzle. After trying his hand at a variety of
jobs, Barnum wound up in what he called "the show business," where his
imagination would have no limits. He soon revealed himself to be a genius at an
enterprise that would come to define America: generating excitement and drumming
up hoopla, catering with savvy to the public's love of the spectacular, the wild
and the outrageous.
Moving to New York, he became one of the burgeoning city's most celebrated
figures. There, he opened what would become a destination all the rage: Barnum's
American Museum on Broadway, stuffed with dioramas, scientific instruments,
strange artifacts, a menagerie of exotic animals, a marine aquarium, theatrical
performances and a slew of living "attractions" with fairytale stories attached
-- including the diminutive General Tom Thumb, the Siamese twins Chang and Eng,
giants, bearded ladies, and many more. The museum soon led to global tours
featuring the most beloved performers. Barnum then created a public frenzy for
the never-before-heard Swedish Opera singer Jenny Lind - with a mounting buzz
and hysteria rivaling that surrounding rock stars a century later. When Barnum's
museum burned to the ground, he came up with yet another fresh concept: the tent
show known as "The Greatest Show on Earth," an idea which would long outlive him
and inspire America's rise as the entertainment capital of the world.
While The Greatest Showman is not intended to be biographical and doesn't adhere
to Barnum's factual chronology, Gracey emphasizes that it highlights several
overarching realities about Barnum. "The important things that we know are true
and wanted to reflect is that P.T. Barnum did come from nothing. He was there at
the birth of advertising. And he was very successful and he did then chase after
high society, because he felt that for all of his success, he was never one of
them. He did bring out Jenny Lind from Sweden. His museum did burn to the ground
and he went bankrupt not once but twice. So while we have creatively adjusted
the story, many of the tentpole moments from his life are reflected."
As Laurence Mark had originally sensed, Jackman had an almost mystical affinity
with Barnum. The Australian actor, singer, performer and producer has long
straddled the high and the low in entertainment with ease. He is both a Tony
Award winner and an Academy Award nominee, as known for the blistering action
role of the superhero Wolverine as he is for singing on Broadway - not to
mention having been dubbed "sexiest man alive."
Yet, he is also a family man, something Mark notes comes to the fore in this
film. "I think this is the first movie in which Hugh has actually played a
family man and calls upon that part of himself," notes the producer. "He makes
it very much a story about a man who loses and then rediscovers his family -
both his home family and his circus family who together mean everything in the
world to him."
For Jackman, the role was irresistible, but the approach of The Greatest Showman
was equally important, and a chance for him to wear his true heart on Barnum's
woolen sleeves. He was most intrigued by the inspirational side of Barnum, the
vastness of the world he envisioned. "What I like most is that at its heart,
this is a film about taking risks, following your dreams and celebrating what
makes each and every one of us unique," he says. "Barnum filled his show with
the most talented but overlooked people he knew and gave them a magnificent
spotlight in which to shine - and that's the story we've decided to tell."
He continues: "Barnum broke walls down and I think what he represents to us now
is this idea that you can be whoever you are, you can choose the life you want
regardless of class or race or background. If you work hard and use your
imagination, you can do something amazing. I think Barnum was a little bit of an
Oddity himself, growing up. He believed that what makes you different makes you
special. That resonates with me in a huge way -- and I think everybody can
relate to it, particularly young kids. That's why I'm thrilled that the theme of
this movie is that it is empowering and cool just to be you."
Jackman shares that he, too, had to find the courage to be himself in terms of
his love of dancing - at a time when taking dance lessons was not what the cool
boys did. "I understand the pressures to follow the crowd, to fit in, to be a
certain way," he says. "I truly love dance -- but there were eight years of my
life that I didn't do it, just because I wanted to fit in. So now it resonates
with me, and I think with most people on the planet, that to be authentically
you is the only path that can bring you true happiness. Otherwise, you're
putting on a mask to make other people happy. And as the father of two
teenagers, I talk to them constantly about the idea that no matter who you are,
no matter how you differ from supermodels and football players, it's irrelevant.
Love yourself exactly the way you were born."
With all that swirling under the surface, Jackman dove into the role of Barnum
with his all, rehearsing non-stop and serving as a leader amongst cast and crew,
pushing everyone towards their limits. Gracey notes that Jackman couldn't help
but raise the bar. "When you have Hugh at the front and you see him giving 150
percent every time -- you don't want to be the person next to him who's not!"
muses the director. "So it just elevates everyone to see all that Hugh brings
take after take."
At the production's very first rehearsals, Jackman demonstrated his zeal. He was
supposed to be sidelined -- having had a minor surgery, he was temporarily
forbidden from singing by his doctor -- but his heart could not follow his head
on that one. "Watching the rehearsal was torture for me, absolute torture,"
Jackman recalls. "Because I so love the film's music, and because the story is
so full of heart and is about fearless abandon, I just got caught up in it. When
it came to the last song, I thought, 'Oh, I'll just do the beginning' ... and
before I knew it, I was off and running. I was singing the entire thing and I
couldn't stop. I just got completely taken away with the moment and suddenly my
stitches had come apart. My doctor was not very happy with me. But that's how
infectious the music for the film is!"
Once healed, Jackman was able to commit without reserve. He was especially
exhilarated by the chance to explore new moves and techniques. "I did things
dance-wise that I've never done before," he notes. "I do like to work hard - but
I did sometimes wish my legs were twenty years younger!"
He also credits the director with giving him, and the entire cast, the room to
find their characters even with such a dizzying array of cinematic elements to
coordinate. "I feel that Michael is the real Barnum of this story," concludes
Jackman. "I know I get credited playing him, but it's really Michael who makes
me think most of Barnum. Without his instincts for creating a show we wouldn't
be here today. He drove this thing the entire way to create what he believed
GILDED AGE PEOPLE, 2017 POP SONGS:
BENJ PASEK AND JUSTIN PAUL ON THE MUSIC
When Benj Pasek and Justin Paul came aboard The Greatest Showman to write the
songs, they knew pretty quickly it was going to be like nothing else they had
done. They had a wide-open canvas and Michael Gracey wanted to fill it with
tunes and words full of timeless emotions and modern rock and pop references
that could compel modern audiences to go on this fantastical journey with Barnum
and his performers. Most of all, they had the chance to bring the past hurtling
into the now through their music.
Recalls Justin Paul: "Michael's passion was so contagious -- that energy excited
us. And we were drawn to this world full of color and life and imagination and
dreaming. The idea of telling a period story with contemporary music was sort of
terrifying in the beginning but it was also a very intriguing challenge. Writing
these songs pushed us to explore a mix of styles that we might never have
Adds Pasek: "Because we were writing songs to support a story about opening up
to a world of wonder, we had the chance to infuse into our process that sense of
joy. The Greatest Showman mixes in many things we love: it embraces what
musicals can do that no other art form can, it has emotions that pierce the
heart in ways words can't, and it's about pop music. So getting to combine these
inspirations while creating songs that could musically and lyrically serve these
great characters was incredible for us."
Throughout, Gracey was a partner in the creativity. "We tend not to write with
anyone in the room with us -- we're very sort of private and secretive about our
process," admits Pasek. "But Michael was our third collaborator on almost every
song, and was part of the writing from concept to final result. Michael really
pushed us to be motivated most by character, to find a unique voice for every
one of them."
As this was well before La La Land, and Pasek and Paul knew they had a mandate
to prove themselves as unknowns, they especially welcomed Gracey's confidence in
them, which never wavered. "Michael really became our champion and because we
talked to him at depth about every emotional moment, we were able to write
something that was illuminating for each member of the cast," says Paul.
Once the songs -- and casting -- were complete, Pasek and Paul rehearsed with
the actors as if they were about to open up on Broadway, rather than shoot a
feature film. "We truly rehearsed as if we were about to have a live show," Paul
explains. "Our rehearsal space in Brooklyn was everything that you would dream
it to be: there were dance rehearsals going on in one room and singing
rehearsals in the other room and the only difference from a Broadway show was
that we also had a little recording studio where we could start to lay down
tracks. It was all very surreal to have these incredibly talented, massive movie
stars walk into the rehearsal hall in their dance clothes and start singing our
The recording sessions were equally intense. "The recording was a process of
quantity, getting tons and tons of material, and the actors were relentless,"
recalls Pasek. "They would come in for three-hour sessions at a time, singing
their songs again and again, going line-by-line at times. It was all about
pulling out the best of the best performances, assuring they matched the
incredible energy on-screen."
Nailing the opening song, "The Greatest Show," which bookends the film, was an
adventure of its own. "That song was written in a way that we'd never written a
song before. Michael wanted it to feel like that moment you're anticipating
someone bigger-than-life coming out on stage, someone like a Kanye or Steve
Jobs, an impresario who inspires sweaty anticipation. We wrote six different
takes and none worked for Michael," Paul recalls. "We then tried to write
something new with him in the room and we were just banging our heads against
the wall when he said, 'let me play you something I came up with before this
session.' What he played was just a beat, but from that beat we started writing
the melody and lyrics around it, doing a 'Ladies and gents, this is the moment...'
kind of thing and it flowed. The one thing Michael most wanted was swagger.
Barnum's at the height of his powers to make the audience wonder: what is about
to happen? So you're anticipating and then the fireball blows and everything
comes to life."
Gracey inspired the song and the song in turn inspired Gracey. He says: "I
wanted this song to make people eating popcorn to have to stop, look up and be
like, what? Benj and Justin gave us music so punchy and lyrics that are so
strong that I knew I then had to deliver even more on the spectacle."
"A Million Dreams" offered a different kind of challenge: moving through time.
"This song tracks Barnum him from a child through pursuing Charity to their life
in the city together. The central idea is that Barnum's dream never stops
driving him," says Paul. Adds Pasek: "We were thinking about how a kid who feels
underestimated would express his hope. That's why there's a childlike innocence
to the music -- you never really think about how hard the work of achieving your
goals will be until you get there."
Gracey was taken aback by the warmth of "A Million Dreams." "Melodically, it was
so beautiful, it became the default theme of the film."
"Come Alive" is another favorite of the pair. "It's the moment when Barnum
starts to achieve his goal of bringing color to the monotony. He's built his
museum and his dream is evolving," comments Paul. "We saw the song as Barnum
wanting to give this feeling to other people, so he gives it to the Oddities and
then they give it to the audience and then audience gives it to their friends
and family all around the city. That was fun to do in a song."
The bar song "The Other Side" was written as a showdown as Jackman's Barnum
tries to convince Efron's defiant Carlyle to join his circus. "We wanted to have
a kind of musical face-off between Hugh and Zac, so we wanted it to be
fast-paced and high energy but also believable emotionally," recalls Paul. "An
acoustic guitar vibe came into it and it took on the quality of a Western saloon
"Benj and Justin cover so much narrative scope in this song - starting with
Barnum negotiating with Phillip in the bar to being at the circus to Phillip
falling in love with Anne at first sight," notes Gracey. "That's just an amazing
arc to achieve. What was even more exciting is that as we rehearsed the song,
you could see Hugh and Zac becoming friends and their interplay deepening."
One of the more romantic songs is "Rewrite The Stars," a duet between Efron and
Zendaya. "That moment is about Phillip's decision to leave behind the rules of
upper-class society and pursue Anne. He's saying to her the rules don't exist
anymore for me anymore and can't you dream this with me? But Anne is more
practical because she's dealt with more hardship than he's ever known," Pasek
elucidates. "This is the moment they decide to jettison the notion that their
love is impossible and dream of a better future. Of course, that's also what
Barnum is always pushing, especially the way Hugh portrays him."
Zendaya added her own personal stamp to the song. Recalls Gracey: "It was
Zendaya who suggesting starting a capella, with Zac just singing it to Anne
without any music. We tried it and it turned out be such a great transition into
Charity Barnum's solo, "Tightrope," is a different kind of love song. "It's a
song that explores how she is willing to give everything over to this guy who is
a loose cannon, knowing it isn't a safe bet," muses Pasek. Adds Paul: "It has
the lilt of a love song and yet there's also an undertone of longing. And that's
where Michelle Williams' contribution comes in, because she's such a nuanced
actress and brings so much complexity to it. You see Charity really grappling
with her conflicting feelings. She knows this is what she signed up for with
Barnum, yet she's also experiencing the darker side of that."
The anthemic "This is Me" took several tries, but Pasek and Paul are overwhelmed
by what emerged. "We realized we needed the raw power of a really, really
intense female voice to express the importance of learning to love yourself, to
empower yourself, even when the whole world tells you that you don't deserve to
be loved," Pasek says. "When we thought about it that way, the music and lyrics
started flowing." Paul continues: "It was very inspired by current pop songs,
something you might hear from Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson or Pink - women with
power and authority who can deliver a message in a contemporary way, and that's
exactly what Keala Settle brought to us in her performance."
Recalls Gracey: "When Keala sang that in the workshop, it, it brought the house
down. It was such a moment, when we could see the song was everything that we
hoped it would be. She took it to another level with such a truth and an
Perhaps the film's most seductive song is "Never Enough," which Rebecca
Ferguson's Jenny Lind sings to Barnum. Says Paul, "It's a song about insatiable
desire but it's a real performance piece because it's not a dance number. It's
about Rebecca standing there and delivering in a mesmerizing way."
Jackman's song "From Now On," on the other hand, is about seeking redemption.
"That song is about Barnum coming to terms with the mistakes he's made with
Charity," says Paul. "It begins in a hush and build and builds until the moment
where he has to rush down the street trying to win his family back."
"From Now On" is Gracey's favorite, he confesses. "I just love it because it's
the eleven o'clock number. Barnum is down in his dumps, having lost everything,
but when the Oddities come in he's convinced that things can change. The minute
we first heard Hugh sing it in the very first workshop, I saw that he was really
able to bring home that idea that Barnum remembers who he was doing this all for
in the first place and that's why he returns to his family."
Each of the songs exists on its own but taken together, they forge something
larger and grander than the sum of their parts, which was an inspiration for the
rest of the production. Says choreographer Ashley Wallen: "Justin and Benj write
songs that are so powerful emotionally, it's the greatest joy to choreograph to
them. When a song means so much to you and you like it beyond using it for your
work, it makes you that much more creative. Their music is so original and their
words are just transporting. They not only know how to tell a story but to write
songs that are just really, really good tunes."
The film's musical soundscape goes beyond the songs, with a score by two-time
Oscar-winner John Debney, and by Joseph Trapanese, which Pasek and Paul were
thrilled to find synched seamlessly with their work. Says Paul: "John and Joseph
created an entire musical palette and a beautiful set of melodies that relate to
the songs in their own way. They took what we did and interpreted it through
their own talent to add another beautiful layer to the storytelling."
CHARITY AND THE SWEDISH NIGHTINGALE:
MICHELLE WILLIAMS AND REBECCA FERGUSON
From their first encounter until his death, Charity Hallet Barnum would be P.T.
Barnum's greatest source of strength and love. He met the seamstress from a
wealthy family when he was still a poor and unknown teenager and proceeded to
court her despite their glaring class difference. He won her love and the pair
had four daughters together. "As a boy, P.T. had nothing and Charity lived in a
world of privilege beyond anything he'd known," explains Michael Gracey. "But
what's beautiful is that even though Charity has so much, all she wants is to
spend her time with P.T. because he possesses something money can't buy:
imagination. When Charity sees the world though P.T.'s eyes, it's a magical
Fully embodying the role is Michelle Williams, a four-time Oscar nominee
including most recently as an emotionally devastated mother in Manchester By The
Sea. Williams often brings the most unexpected take to her performances, and
this role was no exception. Says Laurence Mark: "As Charity, Michelle has this
amazing way of being tough and soft at the same time. In many ways, Charity is
the backbone of everything P.T. does -- and yet Michelle also plays this strong
woman very tenderly."
Adds Michael Gracey: "Michelle really grounds the story in the drama, which is
so necessary to make the musical moments work. You can feel the way she and Hugh
connected and you 100 percent buy her worries as well as her joy. When you see
her on the roof with Barnum making a wishing machine out of nothing, you
understand why she loves this man - and Michelle can do that with a single
Charity's love, and the price she sometimes pays for it, comes across vividly in
the song "Tightrope," which was a focus for Williams in her intensive
preparation. "Michelle's performance of the song is just heartbreaking," says
Gracey. "She worked with Benj and Justin tirelessly to get it just right. It was
never just about hitting the notes but about hitting the emotions and she did
that so beautifully."
One of the other important women surrounding P.T. Barnum was one of the world's
very first global superstars: Jenny Lind, who could be equated with the Lady
Gaga of her day. Born Johanna Maria Lind in 1820, she was revered in Europe for
her acrobatic soprano voice. But it was Barnum who made her an absolute
mega-celebrity in America. No one in the nation had heard her sing a note when
Barnum signed an 18-month contract with Lind, but he promoted, advertised and
gleefully hyped her style and reputation until audiences could wait not one
second more to experience her in her glory. 40,000 people greeted her arrival in
the U.S., and Lind performed 93 large-scale concerts, drawing unprecedented
crowds. As it turned out, the hype was real and Lind wowed audiences, igniting
hysteria later echoed in the Beatles, though she and Barnum would eventually
part ways. (Her mark on the world still stands with towns named after her and in
the Jenny Lind Crib, featuring the spindled style of wood that she prized.)
Taking on the role of an icon who gave birth to the modern idea of icons is
up-and-coming leading lady Rebecca Ferguson, who is herself Swedish-born.
Ferguson has come to the fore in roles ranging from Mission Impossible: Rogue
Nation to Girl On The Train, but this was not like anything she's done
previously. Gracey says that Ferguson took on Lind's glittering persona with a
stunning ease: "I felt that working with Rebecca must be what it was like
working with Rita Hayworth. She's like an old-school movie star, with that kind
of allure," the director muses. "She was just electric as Jenny Lind must have
Ferguson loved researching Lind's life and times. "I discovered that people
actually fainted when Jenny walked onto the stage. She was a true star and she
arrived in America with this air of mystery that people loved," she describes.
"It must have been like being at the top of the pop charts." For all her
searching, Ferguson was unable to hear Lind's voice, since Lind's fame came
before recorded sound. "I wished I could hear her, but this is a modern, musical
take on the story, which I love," she notes.
Likewise, not much is known of what exactly drove Jenny Lind to make her
unlikely alliance with P.T. Barnum, but Ferguson developed her own reasons. "I
think that even though she's a woman who has received hundreds of offers in her
time, Barnum offers her something no one else ever has," she reflects. "He tells
her, 'I want to give audiences something real,' and that is what she responds to
and what creates their bond. He sees what is missing from her life and gives her
a chance to express herself authentically."
This sentiment comes out in Lind's main song, "Never Enough." "I think that song
is saying the world is great and grand and rich and beautiful, but you've just
awoken something else in me, and it isn't enough, but take my hand and let's
travel the path," says Ferguson.
Working with Jackman turned that concept into a flesh-and-blood reality. "When
Hugh put Barnum's jacket and smile on, it was easy to see exactly why anyone
would want to be a part of Barnum's world. I wanted to be a part of Hugh
Jackman's world because it's so intoxicating," Ferguson comments.
Even so, a daunting challenge lay ahead. Ferguson has never performed in a
musical - but she leapt into the opportunity. She recalls the exhilaration of
her first number: "I'd been practicing and rehearsing the song for a while --
but there's nothing like doing it on a stage before 400 extras! Muscles I didn't
know I had were shaking. Yet I could see Michael's calmness, and I was thinking,
'you bet on me, so I'm going to do this.' After a few takes I started feeling
comfortable and realized I really liked it. But it was more complicated than
anything I've ever been involved in - so much goes into coordinating all the
shots with the music, the timing and most of all, with the story's emotions."
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