Is it really the greatest show?

December 2nd, 2019

What is the appeal of the modern movie musical, especially since the gigantic and continued success of The Greatest Showman? 

Earning over $430 million around the world, with a whopping 219 days in theatres. A soundtrack that went on to spend over 20 weeks at the top of the UK album chart becoming the best-selling album of 2018 here and in the US. The musical phenomenon, The Greatest Showman has taken over.  

With its singles, remixes and cover versions dominating the radio and continuing the soundtrack's never-ending life span. As well as a slew of public screenings and singalongs happening all over the country. The film has certainly become a cultural phenomenon. 

 

But with the success of this, A Star is Born and the freshly released Frozen 2, what is it about the movie musical that has recaptured audiences’ attention? 

At Cardiff’s St David’s Hall, hundreds of fans descended on the city to watch the film’s sing-along version, an experience, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. 

With a costume contest, varying audience participation, props, disco lights and a larger than life host to guide you through the whole event, singalongs such as this encapsulate how music and film can bring people together.  

Fan Carly Potter claims: “It’s just uplifting, everyone is encouraged to take part and you’re seeing a show rather than just a film, making you want to get involved.” 

 

Carly and her friend Kelly White, cite the film as one of their favourites, having seen it around four times in cinemas. Both dressed for the singalong as a ringmaster and tattooed lady, they love watching it together as it simply gives them a chance to sing and dance. It is a feeling they don’t quite get with any other film. 

Kelly White (left) and Carly Potter (right) at the Greatest Showman Singalong Cardiff

 

“It feels very current and poppy, which appeals to me more than a normal musical,” says Claire who attended the singalong with four of her friends, all of whom had dressed up and gone out for this big occasion. 

It’s the effect of a musical that’s unlike anything else. Broadway hit Something Rotten! Describes their appeal perfectly with their song “A Musical” singing lyrics such as: “You could go see a drama. With all of that trauma and pain. Or go see something more relaxing. And less taxing on the brain.”  

Musicals have long been a staple of Hollywood, but with only a handful truly making their mark in the public eye. Shows on Broadway and the West End can come and go, but only so many film adaptations end up succeeding in the eyes of a studio. 

But with the rise of singalong movies in 2018 such as Bohemian Rhapsody and awards contenders like A Star is Born, the genre is clearly witnessing a resurgence. Having witnessed the likes of Rocketman and Beatles film Yesterday, not to mention adaptations of stage shows like Cats, Wicked and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, musicals are clearly here to stay.

 

A former member of choir Only Boys Aloud and musical fan, Craig McDonald isn’t surprised by their newfound success. “La La Land reignited that idea of a movie musical and then The Greatest Showman came along, bringing the West End to the cinema, with the choreography and entire set up just dying to be on stage.” 

Emma Stone (left) and Ryan Gosling (right) in 2017's La La Land

 

As a singer, McDonald believes the success and appeal of music films differ greatly from your average one, purely from how they can make you feel. “Singing and music have a very unique quality that simple dialogue lacks. No matter who you are, the moment you hear a certain type of music, it’s going to trigger a certain emotional response from you. Despite it being cliché, with singing, it really allows you to ‘open your heart’ to the meaning of the words, which just speaking them doesn’t do”.  

But is it any surprise that audiences have attached themselves so closely to musicals, with the often-serious climate we all find ourselves in?  

In a world dominated by dark depressing headlines, Trump and the dreaded B-word, music films are allowing audiences to escape into something happy and fantastical. The Greatest Showman even looks to reflect that with its relatable themes of individuality and persecution.

 

“It celebrates not being normal, the message that everyone is accepted, and everyone is the same. It’s all about inclusion,” says fan and singalong attendee Kelly White. 

 

While the Greatest Showman may not get the facts straight about the controversial P.T Barnum and some could argue there are better depictions of the musical genre out there, there’s something to say about its individuality. 

As the film’s very own critic James Gordon Bennett puts it: 

“Putting folks of all kinds on stage with you. All colours, shapes, sizes and presenting them as equals. Why, any other critic might have even called it ‘a celebration of humanity'.”  

David Osgar

@DavidOsgar