If you like to keep up with Hollywood news, you’ve likely begun to hear about “The Greatest Showman,” a forthcoming musical biopic about P.T. Barnum. As the film’s IMDB page describes it, it will “celebrate the birth of show business,” which is quite a lofty goal for any movie. But regardless, this looks like a pretty major cinematic event, in large part because musical movies have been gaining renown pretty steadily in the last few years.
In 2014, a movie called “Whiplash” by a young director named Damien Chazelle became one of the darling indie dramas of the year. That’s quite something for a movie that’s essentially about a jazz drummer, filled with about as much musical theory as dialogue. “Whiplash” was, somewhat improbably, nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and J.K. Simmons, the actor who played a ruthless jazz band instructor, actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
In 2015, the movie “Straight Outta Compton,” which told of the early days of the rap group N.W.A., was viewed as a legitimate Oscar contender in the fall. It actually wound up missing out on a nomination and was soon after noted as one of the year’s biggest snubs. Nevertheless, we saw a sort of hip-hop docu-drama come out of nowhere to impress a whole lot of fans and serious film critics alike.
And of course last year we saw “La La Land” become arguably the most popular cinematic musical in modern history. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in singing roles, and featuring a soundtrack full of fun originals, “La La Land” was a runaway favorite for Best Picture at the Oscars before it was surprisingly beaten by the indie hit “Moonlight.”
That’s basically the streak upon which the hype for “The Greatest Showman” is being built. While P.T. Barnum was essentially the ultimate carnival barker and a founder of the legendary Barnum & Bailey circuses, this film is reportedly taking a musical approach. Hugh Jackman will star as Barnum, and we’ve seen him in this kind of role before, not only as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables” but in numerous Broadway roles over the years. Zac Efron and Rebecca Ferguson will also be involved, and Michelle Williams will play Charity Barnum. But the most interesting supporting cast member may just be Zendaya.
Originally known as a model and singer in early projects such as “Kidz Bop 15” and “Shake It Up,” Zendaya has since branched out as an actress. She secured her biggest role this summer, appearing as the new MJ in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” But it now appears as if she’ll get to blend her talents once more, doing some acting and singing alike in “The Greatest Showman.”
We don’t know exactly what her role will look like at this point, but it’s certainly no accident that 20th Century Fox found someone with a singing background for her part. The early trailers show Zendaya (wearing a pink wig) as one of the performers in Barnum’s early shows, spending most of her time swinging on a trapeze. But she’s sure to figure into a few musical numbers. And the way musical films have been received in recent years, that could be a very big deal for the young singer and actress.