Walking the trapeze is a breeze compared with getting an original musical about P.T. Barnum off the ground. But after seven years of development, planning, and production, The Greatest Showman — starring Hugh Jackman as the godfather of the modern circus and Michelle Williams as his wife, Charity — will finally hit screens on Christmas Day.
“Up until La La Land, everyone was saying there hasn’t been an original musical in 23 years,” Jackman says. “So the prevailing thought in Hollywood was, unless you have a brand people know, it’s not a done thing. So it just took a long time.”
Showman, helmed by commercial director Michael Gracey, tracks Barnum’s rise from poverty-stricken childhood to the launch of his first circus in New York. Efron is Barnum’s business partner, who falls in love with a trapeze artist played by Zendaya. “This was also a time in America where puritans kind of ruled and the circus was the equivalent of some dark-alley-strip-show kind of thing,” Jackman says.
Initially, Showman was a traditional biopic, but changed after Gracey suggested adding song-and-dance numbers. “I said, ‘If you’re going to call it The Greatest Showman, you should play to your strengths and we should make it a musical,’” the director says. “That ridiculous remark cost me seven years of my life.”
The biggest surprise in Showman is that although it’s set throughout the mid-1800s, the songs — from La La Land’s Oscar-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul — sound like current pop hits. “We were clear from the beginning that this wouldn’t feel like a period movie or a historical piece,” Jackman says. “What would Barnum do now? I have an almost-12-year-old daughter. I wanted [the movie] to be as exciting for her as listening to Katy Perry’s new song.”
(back End March)
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Hugh Jackman puts on the greatest show at CinemaCon
Jackman, though, did plenty to wow the crowd and sell the “The Greatest Showman.” After thanking his “mum,” who was apparently in the audience, the actor addressed the exhibitors at length, thanking them for their commitment to the theatrical experience. “There’s not one person in this room who didn’t, at some point in their lives, love movies more than anything else and wish that one day they could be in this business,” Jackman said.
So the audience was already on his side before he introduced the trailer for the film, which tells the origin story of P.T. Barnum, who founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus (later merged with Ringling Bros.). Though that very circus recently announced it would close this May after 146 years in the business, the film portrays the circus as a purely magical place. With music from the guys who wrote the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen” — and costarring Zac Efron, Michelle Williams and Zendaya — the movie, directed by Michael Gracey, appears to have an inspirational tone.
“Every one of us is special,” Barnum says to a little person he hires to be in the circus, “and nobody is like anyone else. That’s the point of my show.”
It was highly appropriate that Hugh Jackman introduced The World's Greatest Showman at CinemaCon on Thursday.
The singing and dancing Oscar-nominated, Tony-winning actor wowed the annual convention of theater owners with a speech before introducing a sneak peek of his musical film inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum (in theaters Dec. 25), founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Based on the footage shown at CinemaCon, the annual convention of theater owners, Showman should fill the holiday season with the ebullient musical joy of La La Land with a dash of Moulin Rouge.
The La La Land songwriting duo, Academy Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, wrote songs for the movie, Jackman noted proudly. The Logan star sounded like Barnum himself as he set up the clip from the film, which has been seven years in the making, directed by Michael Gracey (who wasn't in attendance because he's tied up editing the movie).
"It’s all about taking risks. Logan was a risk," said Jackman of the R-rated conclusion to his role as Wolverine, which has made more than $500 million worldwide. "That is what is going to propel this business."
He said "big name actresses, I am not going to say who" had been gunning for one of the more sensational Showman roles, the Bearded Lady.
But after giving a tear-filled final song audition, newcomer Keala Settle nabbed the role. Jackman believes she'll be a big star. "Remember that name," he told the crowd.
The clip follows Barnum after he's laid off from a desk job, sparking his interest in show business. The footage even has him coming up with the term "show business" as he tries to get an acrobat (Zac Efron) to join his show. There's singing and dancing, the Bearded Lady strikingly front and center. Zendaya had a screen moment swinging on a trapeze.
"All the main actors have a very big moment," said Jackman. "We have Michelle Williams and I ballroom dancing on a rooftop. Zac and I tap dancing on tabletops. We have Zendaya and Zac flying through the air on trapeze rigs. P.T. Barnum, you know what he said, 'Life is what you choose to make it.' "
The Showman presentation ended with the rousing song Come Alive. During the number, real dancers hit the CinemaCon stage and celebratory balloons dropped from the ceiling.
Jackman was in true entertainer mode, pointing out that his mother, Grace McNeil, was in the audience. He said he had to give her a shout-out, "otherwise she'll start heckling me."
ox’s event ended with an appearance by Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman, who thanked exhibition for keeping Logan in theaters. Jackman then threw it to a clip from the period musical he stars and produces The Greatest Showman about P.T. Barnum, which was followed by a chorus of singers taking the stage to perform one of the pic’s tunes “Come Alive.”
Before the clip flashed on the screen, Jackman told the roomful of exhibitors, “I need to address the elephant in the room. Just because I was a producer on the film, didn’t mean I had the role in the bag. I had to audition and I was up against Chris Aronson for the role.” Jackman said that director Michael Gracey is still filming the pic which opens on Christmas Day.
In regards to the trailer, let’s just say that La La Land looks to be upstaged in regards to original musical revivals. Jackman’s Barnum is let go from his dull accounting job and starts the circus with his wife Charity, played by Michelle Williams. He meets a small guy who looks to be Tiny Tim. “I’m putting together a show and I need star,” Barnum tells the man. “Everyone is special and no one is like anyone else,” says Jackman’s Barnum in the voice-over. Zac Efron’s trapeze artist asks Barnum “What’s show business?” Barnum responds, “I just made it up.” Trailer’s end musical number “Alive” carried over into the brief live performance by the chorus at Caesars Colosseum.
There’s a reason that “The Greatest Showman” required Jackman putting his clout behind the project. The musical story of P.T. Barnum, a circus impresario, is a risky proposition in an age of superhero films and franchise fare. Musicals can be hit or miss at the box office, but “The Greatest Showman” does have an ace up its sleeve — songs and music from Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, the team behind the Oscar-winning “La La Land” and the Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen.” Jackman said the film took seven years to bring to the screen, but in an era of Netflix and YouTube, he argued big swings are the way to keep the movie business competitive with digital diversions.
“This movie is about taking risks…and that is what is going to propel this business,” said Jackman.
Jackman said the film “is a fantastical rags to riches tale” and a celebration of “creativity and what is unique about each and every one of us.” Its central premise is that Barnum, a 19th century entrepreneur, ushered in a new era of modern showmanship.
The preview delivered the goods, highlighting singing bearded ladies, Zendaya doing calisthenics on a trapeze, Michelle Williams ballroom dancing across the New York City rooftops, and Zac Efron tapping on the counter of a bar.
Best In Show for CinemaCon 2017 goes to Twentieth Century Fox, which closed out its presentation with a full-throttle Hugh Jackman seduction in honor of his P.T. Barnum biopic, “The Greatest Showman,” which will be released Christmas Day.
Jackman turned on his Broadway charm for the exhibitors, walking them through the passion-project original musical directed by newcomer Michael Gracey. There was extended footage from the film (complete with music by Oscar-winning “La La Land” lyricists Justin Paul and Benj Pasek), which stars Jackman as Barnum, Michelle Williams as Barnum’s rags-to-riches wife, and Zac Efron as an acrobat who soars through the air with the greatest of ease. And then there were the audience members/Fox employees who brought it home by singing and dancing in the aisles.
Out & About during his last days in NY
(back in April)