It’s not the most obvious topic for a feel-good family musical: the career of someone long identified as America’s premium hucksters, the so-called Prince of Humbugs, P.T. Barnum.
Indeed, the circus which bore his name, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, just had to shut its doors after animal rights protesters forced it to stop using elephants. Which, it turns out, were what the public had been paying to see. Ticket sales slumped and the circus won’t be coming to town any more.
But the circus which Barnum invented was a great American institution for 150 years. And The Greatest Showman works on many levels.
Australian actor Hugh Jackman lights up the screen and wins our sympathy as the quintessentially American self-made man, P.T. Barnum. We see him as an orphan boy stealing bread in the streets of 19th century New York City. But young Phineas dreams big. And not just for himself. Almost the whole story happens once Barnum is a husband and father.
His fibs and minor frauds and outrageous inventions are all in service of his beloved wife (played by the radiant, winsome Michelle Williams) and their adorable daughters.