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Truth or Just a Show?

The hit movie, The Greatest Showman, provides an appealing ride through the mostly-true story of P.T. Barnum.

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The lights go down. Sound vibrates around the theatre. The audience’s chattering goes quiet. The smell of popcorn emanates around the room. Music sounds. Watchful eyes glitter. This is the greatest show.

Audiences have been raving about Michael Gracey’s production, The Greatest Showman. Featuring the Academy Award Winning Lyricists of La La Land, an engaging cast, captivating music, and bold cinematography culminate to produce 105 minutes of singing, dancing, tears and also joy.

What many people do not know is that this movie is based on a real-life story and real-life people from the nineteenth century. The story is based on the life of showman and circus founder P.T. Barnum who came from nothing and created a world-renowned show that dazzled audiences of all ages.

However, the storyline does take liberties to bring the time to life much like the movie Titanic created the characters of Rose and Jack. It’s interesting to examine exactly which parts are true. Let’s take a look at fact versus fiction in The Greatest Showman.

In the movie: An interracial relationship between main characters Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) creates controversy, but they are able to overcome judgment from the world around them in order to be together.

Fiction: The writers invented their characters for the movie along with their relationship together, but it did capture the prejudices and tensions that encompassed the times.

In the movie: A romance develops between P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), and Lind later quits her tour due to his rejection of her advances.

Fiction: There is no evidence of any romantic involvement between the two. The only reason Jenny Lind agreed to go on tour with Barnum was because he promised her a great deal of money. She did not even keep the money. She donated all $350,000, equivalent to $10 million today, to charity. She left the tour due to Barnum’s relentless marketing of her, and she switched to new management to complete the tour.

In the movie: Barnum recruited the dwarf, Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), to the circus when he was 22 years old.

Fiction: In real life, Barnum brought the dwarf, Charles Stratton, known to audiences as General Tom Thumb, into the show when he was only 4 years old, not 22. Also, the two of them were distant cousins, which the movie never addresses.

The movie: Many people protested over Barnum’s shows.

Fact: The oddities and “freaks” in his shows outraged the people who already considered theaters to be “dens of sin.” Some people also thought of Barnum’s shows as exploitation and considered him to be a racist for the shows he put on.

The movie: Barnum’s museum burned down.

Fact: This is true. The origin of the fire, however, was never discovered.

Even while there are many differences between the movie and what actually happened, people are going daily to watch this production around the world. After a very slow start and poor critic reviews, the movie’s box office success has grown due to good word of mouth and a soundtrack of powerful songs.

After six weeks at the box office, the movie has grossed over $126 million domestically, $259 million world-wide. The Greatest Showman currently sits at number one on iTunes for soundtracks and tops the Billboard album chart for the third week in a row.

Many factors came together to craft the show into a successful production including a screenplay that seamlessly blends fact and fiction, intriguing characters, elaborate makeup and costumes and breathtaking special effects.

“The numbers in The Greatest Showman have a dance-pop fire that keeps you hooked,” said Owen Gleiberman from Variety, a magazine published specifically for the entertainment industry.

The characters’ performances brought out the best in people. Upper School Theatre Director Ms. Pam Hurt thoroughly enjoyed the production and the ideas and messages it brought to light. “The show had several great messages about biblical world views and the family and individuality. The performance was so inventive and creative, celebrating people for who they are,” said Ms. Hurt.

Senior Thomas Sherman, another fan of The Greatest Showman, enjoyed everything from the musical scenes to the cinematography to the cast. “My favorite part is also my favorite song, ‘From Now On.’ When Hugh Jackman’s character turns from his decisions to pursue a different life, it is really emotional. All the characters are together, and the movie wraps up beautifully,” said Thomas.

Junior Briley Taylor loved every part of the show. “I especially enjoyed the soundtrack,” said Briley, “even though the show was set in the 1800s, the songs were really modern and inspirational.”

Many people agree the movie gives an escape from life and takes the audience to another world. Now, theaters around the Dallas-Fort Worth area are showing The Greatest Showman as a sing-a-long with the song lyrics captioned on the bottom of the screen.

Thomas also saw the sing-a-long version of the movie with his family. “The sing-a-long was great, because my family and I were able to belt out the songs surrounded by people who were doing the same,” said Thomas. “It was really the best way to see that movie, and I would recommend it to everyone.”

Catch The Greatest Showman sing-a-long in theaters now at Cinemark West Plano, Cinemark Legacy, Cinemark Frisco Square, AMC Stonebriar 24, and LOOK Cinemas Prestonwood.

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