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Album Review

The Greatest Showman is the show that just keeps on giving.

Weeks after the inspiring musical movie’s theatrical release, so many fans began adding their own voices to the mix that 20th Century Fox began to schedule special sing-along screenings. That cultural phenomena (along with exposure at this year’s Golden Globes awards) has helped to propel the soundtrack to the pinnacle of Billboard’s album chart. In fact, it’s the first movie soundtrack to hold the top spot for two weeks in a row since the one for Suicide Squad accomplished that feat in the summer of 2016, according to The New York Times.

Though the movie’s storyline is fraught with some historical innacuracies, the songs themselves celebrate messages of empowerment and personal dignity that have the ability to span centuries.

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Pro-social Content

The Greatest Showman majors in the message that tenacity, hard work and optimism enable us to achieve our wildest dreams. Those themes are evident in album opener “The Greastest Show,” where we hear, “Impossible comes true, it's taking over you/Oh, this is the greatest show.” P.T. Barnum (played by actor and singer Hugh Jackman) insists that the circus can be a home for society’s misfits, a place “where the lost get found in the crown of the circus king.” Elsewhere, the song says of such belonging, “It's fire, it's freedom, it's flooding open,” and even makes this spiriutal comparison: “It's a preacher in the pulpit and you'll find devotion” (though that comparision could also be heard as a negative one as well).

In “A Million Dreams” P.T. Barnum and his wife, Charity (played by actor/singer Michelle Williams), encourage themselves and others, to “live in a world that we design” while shrugging off the negative comments of those who may “call us crazy.” The song recognizes the power of passion-fueled dreams, telling us that “a million dreams is all it’s gonna take” to make the world we desire. This song is also a promise to Barnum’s family about the world he hopes and intends to create for them.

“Come Alive” has Barnum and his family urging others to “shake awake” and “brighten up your darkest day” by stepping out of the “shadows” and dreaming “with your eyes wide open.” This song encourages others to recognize the potential they have in this life.

Renowned opera star Jenny Lind (played by Rebecca Ferguson with singing overdubs by The Voice contestant Loren Allred) sings that without the one you love by your side, “all the shine of a thousand spotlights” and even “towers of gold” will “never be enough” to satisfy. In “From Now On” Barnum declares that he will never again be “blinded by the light” of fortune that caused him to live at a “crazy speed of always needing more,” and to neglect his family for a time.

Barnum wants to convince a young man named Phillip (played and voiced by Zac Efron) to become his business partner, telling him that if “you run with me/I can cut you free/Out of the treachery and walls you keep in.” Barnum also promises the younger man that while his style may be “a little crazy,” it will provide Phillip with the “freedom to dream.”

The anthem “This Is Me” showcases the beauty of individuality and the courage necessary to persevere “when the sharpest words wanna cut me down.” The song insists that even when people feel like they’re outcasts, when they feel broken “down to dust” that they are actually “glorious.”

In “Rewrite the Stars,” an interracial couple defies cultural norms of the time to pursue a relationship, declaring that “no one can say what we get to be.” And in “Tightrope,” Charity sings that she will follow Barnum “to the great unknown/… Hand in hand” and “never let go,” no matter “how far we could fall.” She shows true devotion to a man she loves, even while he temporarily loses himself in fame.

In “Come Alive” Barnum describes people who are “like a zombie in a maze” because they can’t seem to recognize that they’ve perpetually settled for less.

Objectionable Content

Probably the two biggest concerns for families singing along to this soundtrack come on the song “The Other Side.” We hear three prominent uses of the phrase, “Oh, d--n.” And there’s reference to Phillip’s indulgent lifestyle as well, one that involves “whiskey and misery, and parties and plays.” (The actual scene in the film involves drinking as well.) Elsewhere, from now on includes Barnum’s recollection of times he “drank champagne with kings and queens.”

Meanwhile, “The Greatest Show” variously compares the feeling of fame to losing control (“Just surrender 'cause you feel the feeling taking over”) and to being inebriated (“Impossible comes true, intoxicating you”).

As sadly romantic as the ballad “Never Enough” may be, it’s sung from the perspective a woman who tried (in the movie, not in real life) to seduce Barnum away from his wife. Her disappointment, then, is that of the proverbial “other woman.” There’s also an implication here that Barnum manipulatively used Jenny Lind to further his own fame.

In “Rewrite the Stars” Phillip and Anne (played and voiced by Zendaya) sing lines that could be heard suggestively: “You know I want you/I know you want me/So who can stop me if I decide/You’re my destiny.”

Summary Advisory

At the conclusion of The Greatest Showman, P.T. Barnum sits with his wife, watching their daughter pursue her dream to become a ballerina, and you’re left with this feeling that peace and goodness have been restored. He’s made mistakes in the pursuit of his own dreams; but he seems deeply determined to be present with his family as his daughters pursue theirs.

The accompanying soundtrack follows a similar arc, from inspiration, to passion, to regret, to resolution. We’re treated to songs that repeatedly emphasize the positive, redemptive themes of perseverance, determination, courage, and—ultimately—humility. We’re encouraged to stand tall and strong, whether that’s with others or, sometimes, on our own.

All in all, it’s a passionate musical journey with much to recommend it—as long as you’re mindful of a couple of navigable bumps along the way.

Plot Summary

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Peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200.

Record Label

Atlantic Records




December 8, 2017

On Video

Year Published



Kristin Smith

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