Im­pre­sario PT Bar­num given big screen makeover in lethally bland mu­si­cal

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

ALI­SON ROWAT Dir: Michael Gracey With: Hugh Jack­man, Michelle Wil­liams, Re­becca Fer­gu­son Run­time: 105 min­utes

PT Bar­num loved show busi­ness and show busi­ness has loved him right back, with films, mu­si­cals and books galore about the cir­cus master. The im­pre­sario be­hind Gen­eral Tom Thumb and a mer­maid with the head of a mon­key cer­tainly knew the value of giv­ing the pub­lic some­thing new. As such he might have sym­pa­thised with any mod­ern movie maker try­ing to tell his story for the umpteenth time.

But even the king of corn­ball, the sul­tan of sunny side up, might have baulked at what they’ve done with the song and dance of his life, ma, in this lethally bland mu­si­cal drama. The man with a tal­ent for mak­ing the pub­lic gawp has been given an Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent makeover and his po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness cor­rected. The re­sults were enough to leave this viewer slack-jawed in amaze­ment, and not in a good way.

Hugh Jack­man plays Bar­num, a move that makes one warm to Michael Gracey’s pic­ture im­me­di­ately. The star of Les Mis has form in fronting top-flight fes­tive sea­son mu­si­cals, and with Bill Con­don (Chicago) one of the writ­ers, what could pos­si­bly go wrong?

A lot, as we see from the open­ing song, a mod­ern, poppy, mid­dle of the road num­ber. Mu­sic at odds with the pe­riod set­ting is not to all tastes – see the howls which greeted Sofia Cop­pola’s Marie An­toinette – but the danc­ing, too, is stompy, ag­gres­sive, straight outta a pop video stuff.

Save for the odd, qui­eter num­ber, such as the one which ac­com­pa­nies the story of Bar­num’s life­long ro­mance with wife Char­ity (Michelle Wil­liams), the mu­sic stays in the pop mould, even­tu­ally set­tling on the kind of ear-bash­ing power bal­lads that would not be out of place in a TV tal­ent show. Most of the time, one feels less ca­ressed by the songs than as­saulted.

The power bal­lads, with their “take me as I am” lyrics, suit the pic­ture’s mod­ern take on Bar­num: that he gave a home, and jobs, to those who would oth­er­wise be shunned by so­ci­ety. But he did so to make money out of them, some­thing the pic­ture nods to but does not ac­knowl­edge nearly enough.

Like­wise, the use of an­i­mals in his mu­seum and shows does not fig­ure here as largely as it did in re­al­ity. In keep­ing with mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties which rightly

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