Barnum, film, Hollywood, Hugh Jackman, Jenny Lind, movie review, movies, musical, opera, oratorio, soprano, stage, The Greatest Showman
In some ways it’s understandable that the film producers of the LA studios thought that a flick about the best hype man who ever lived would make a good movie. Perhaps it would have been, if done with accuracy, class, and a modicum of understanding of what is entailed in the musical genre. The Greatest Showman has too many glaring problems.
I suspect that the creators of this fiasco hoped to appeal to a younger crowd, and probably sold the treatment as High School Musical- goes-to-the-circus. Uh, check out the aging cast, which means they missed their targeted demographic and are left with baby boomers weaned in the glory daze of Broadway musicals. If asked their opinion, the post-war babies would most likely say with a pained smile that it was merely entertaining. Ow, the dreaded E-word.
Glaring problems are overwhelming in this silly film, especially the cramped choreography better served on a proscenium stage. Costuming was a mess. The gowns from no era in particular. Then there was the alarming shock of no chest and armpit hair for the neatly hirsute bearded lady. (Apologies to Miss Keala Settle, who other than Jackman, did the best singing.)
That’s another thing. These are recording artists, not true vocalists, and there is a huge difference. Other than Settle and Jackman, they have voices ill-equipped for the stage unless a mic is taped to their heads. Many recording artists today share the annoying asthmatic style made popular by Michael Jackson. The problem with that has to do with Jackson being a genius in the industry and others trying to use a style he (IMHO) had to fall back on when his voice started to give out. I learned the inside story about that when I studied with Mia Phoebus in LA in the 70s. Jackson took lessons from her competitor, Seth Riggs, whom Jackson went to see about singing the pharyngeal style. (It’s the reason babies can scream for hours and not get hoarse.) It must not have worked for him because he went on to a breathy style and used a mic.
Then we have my biggest gripe, the bashing of Jenny Lind, who during her time was the most famed and respected singer in the world. Think on that. Engaging the entire world without any form of today’s technology and media coverage. Famous composers and performers drooled over her but she never veered from asserting her prim reputation. There was no reason to smear her legacy and too much delight in the doing of it on the screen. This is another example of Hollywood’s cultural ignorance and lost opportunity. Lind had listeners in tears and swooning in their seats. Tickets to hear her scalped for huge prices. Entire portions of cities needed to be blocked off when she came to town.
I’m not sure if the writers can be faulted. Often what they put on the page is different when producers meddle. Take the otherwise perfection of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing. The opening song is The Last Rose of Summer, one of Lind’s signature pieces, which was sung by Fleming’s heavy dramatic soprano style. It’s a song meant for a lyric or coloratura, to be light and haunting. The song is supposed to evoke the pain of grief and isolation, which would have set up the film perfectly, but Fleming’s rendition had all the light, airiness of sludge.
Coming back to the original point. There is a reason the High School Musical films work. They aren’t movies that hold my attention but they are perfect for their targeted audience and great fun for them. Watching the brilliant Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman slog through and do his very best with material that is mediocre at best was painful, but it proves that he is a great showman.
For some info about Lind:
M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)
Follow on Twitter @RigdonML