The Greatest Showman’s Misleading Trailers

‘The Greatest Showman’ is one of the most anticipated films of the festive period. A host of huge name stars is topped by Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams. Bill Condon has co-written the screenplay, following successful involvement in the films ‘Chicago’ and ‘Gods and Monsters’, getting an Oscar nomination for one and a win for the other. Seamus McGarvey is involved as cinematographer, a man whose successes are so great its hard to list.

One thing is distracting me when watching the trailers though. For all the brilliant theatrics, set pieces, costumes and star power, there appears to be no mention of the fact this is a musical. Well, that’s not strictly true. There’s a brief mention right at the end of each trailer to “music from Academy Award and Tony Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul”. Not much of a way to sing the praises of the central crux of the film.

My question is: why? In 2017 we’ve already had proven to us that cinema-goers love musicals. ‘La La Land’ achieved a global box office of $445,669,679 (as of 25th November 2017), based on a budget of $30m. Admittedly, this may be an exceptional and unexpected success, but it sets a precedent that there is certainly an appetite for a well-delivered musical.

It’s not as if this hasn’t bitten other films before. When Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd was released in 2008, cinema-goers in the UK were seen to walk out of screenings due to the misleading nature of the trailers. Complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority. It looked like a horror film but turned out not only to be a musical, but a faithful version of a Sondheim musical. Guess what? Sondheim famously makes his musicals extremely musical-y, with seemingly the entire film being delivered in song form.

It just feels incredible that a studio would make the same mistakes again. The craziest thing is that the music is absolutely brilliant and should be being trumpeted to help sell the film. The lead cast are all seasoned musical professionals – a huge improvement on the likes of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Jungle Book’, which featured the more experienced musical performers in minor roles.

You can listen to a couple of tracks below and make your mind up yourself.

I’m a great believer that audiences are intelligent enough to make their own decisions. We hate to be lured into an auditorium under false pretences.

I guess we’ll find out if there’s any backlash this Christmas.

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Theatre Review – Hello, Dolly! (Jerry Zaks, Sam S. Shubert Theater, 17th March 2017)

Note: This is a review of a preview of Hello, Dolly! Out of respect for the performance I only published it after the opening night. 

The first time I saw Hello, Dolly! was when I was 27 and preparing for an amateur production of the great musical in England. I had been cast in the role of Cornelius Hackl, the employee of Horace Vandergelder who has just been promoted from impertinent fool to chief clerk. Popping out of the store room box in the opening scene is exciting for all Cornelius-portrayers the world over – for two reasons. Firstly, you get to deliver your hotly-anticipated opening line in the show and finally get a glimpse of the audience. Secondly, it means you can breathe properly for the first time since lights down – you’ve been trapped with your assistant Barnaby in a tiny box for the last 15 minutes as the rest of the characters are introduced to the audience at a seemingly excruciatingly slow pace.

I was relaying this information to the perfectly lovely gentleman who was stood next to me at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre on Friday night when I asked him “So are you involved in this production at all?”. “Why yes,” he responded, “I’m the director.”

That would be four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks. [1]

Outside the theatre

His production of Hello, Dolly!, set to run at the Sam S. Shubert Theater from 20th April, is exactly what you would hope to see from a Broadway version of a musical that has been around for the last 50 years. It simply oozes quality and class.

The opening number “Call On Dolly” is full of bright and wonderful costumes with perfectly-precise movement from the ensemble. Warren Carlyle’s choreography at this point is nothing too complicated, but there’s a certain beauty in its simplicity – a matter counterbalanced with “The Waiters’ Gallop” in the second half.

The real star of the show, inevitably, is Bette Midler. As the titular character she is able to sweep from playful to heartbroken in the space of a song. Done correctly, it is a surprisingly nuanced character. She is larger than life when she’s entertaining guests, putting on a show for the cast and the audience in equal measures. However, when she is alone she reveals what drives her throughout the story – her lost love and former husband Ephram Levi. Midler may have the audience in stitches when she’s slowly eating a delicious chicken dinner, but they’re eating the palm of her hand when she’s speaking from her heart.

David Hyde Pierce is a great counterpoint for Midler as the angry shop owner and “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. He is a seasoned Broadway star, winning a Tony Award in 2008 for his role in Curtains. It was great to finally see “Penny in my Pocket” restored and performed in front of the curtain at the start of the second act. It’s a song that’s great for someone like Pierce – full of characterisation and expression. It was cut from previous Broadway runs to shorten the second half.

Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker) and Beanie Feldstein (Minnie Fay) are all brilliant in their Horace-avoiding storyline, with “Elegance” a particular highlight in the second half. Creel’s rendition of “It Only Takes A Moment” with Baldwin was simply beautiful; a clear sign that musical director Andy Einhorn can get the best out of his performers.

The tickets for this production may well sell because Bette Midler is such a huge star and is massively popular on Broadway, with David Hyde Pierce also offering added interest. However, what audiences will find is a musical that is excellent across the board, from the back row of the ensemble to the lead star, with not a thread on a costume out of place.

To think that what I saw was supposed to be a preview, I only wish I could see it when it hits the full run.

It will be a smash.

[1] It was to my shame that I didn’t recognise Jerry Zaks. He was the perfect gentleman. By the time we had started chatting he had already noticed that we hadn’t got a Playbill and found an usher to retrieve a couple for us. What kind of director does that?! He seemed genuinely interested in whether we were enjoying the show, seeking us out at the end to garner our opinion before signing our programme. Great job sir and thank you for finding the time to talk to us.