The Fight of The Better Musical

This time last year there was only one movie everyone was talking about in the wake of the Oscars. Movie musical La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, made a massive impact on the movie scene for many reasons. It was a box office success and won six Oscars – a testament to its popularity. A standard had now been set for a forthcoming era of modern movie musicals.

Fast forward a year later, however, and an even better movie musical has been released yet it is getting nowhere near the same recognition as La La Land did – despite the fact the two musicals share the same songwriters, Pasek and Paul. It is, of course, The Greatest Showman. And it is frankly a much better musical than La La Land is, in every sense of the definition.

The most noticeable thing about The Greatest Showman that puts it miles ahead of La La Land is the soundtrack. Songs in musicals are not merely there for entertainment value, they serve a purpose and are crucial to the storytelling narrative. While some may find the songs in La La Land such as “City Of Stars” and “Another Day Of Sun” enjoyable, which is fair enough, if you remove them from the plot and choose not to present the movie as a musical, the storyline remains intact and it still makes sense.

The Greatest Showman would fail to make sense without its rather excellent soundtrack. Without Hugh Jackman singing “A Million Dreams”, viewers would not know Phineas Barnum’s’ childhood story and quest to make something of his life, without “The Other Side” the business partnership struck up between Barnum and Phil Carlyle (Zac Efron) simply would not have happened, and if you were to remove “Rewrite The Stars”, the romantic feelings between Carlyle and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) would have been unclear to viewers.

The storyline of La La Land has a central focus on the characters of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and follows their lives of trying to break into Hollywood, both together and apart. The Greatest Showman follows the main plot of P.T Barnum creating a show in New York, but there are plenty of subplots and developments of secondary characters. Viewers see Barnum’s wife Charity (Michelle Williams) struggle to deal with her husband’s newfound success, Phil Carlyle and Anne Wheeler fall in love with each other, and journalist James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks) try to take the show down in his newspaper, among many other subplots.

Some people may prefer to watch movies which have a sole focus on a select few characters, and that’s fine. However, what makes the mega-musicals of the world such as Les Miserables, West Side Story and Phantom Of The Opera so great is that there are plenty of storylines and characters to get emotionally invested in and to be entertained by, and this is a trait that The Greatest Showman has over La La Land.

Of course, The Greatest Showman has faced plenty of criticism, mainly for not being very realistic – something which La La Land has been praised for. However, a lot of the big musicals out there have become successful despite being quite idealistic. Witches and wizards don’t exist, yet Wicked celebrated its tenth anniversary on the West End last year. Animals can’t sing, but that hasn’t stopped The Lion King being a Tony award-winning musical. America’s founding fathers certainly did not listen to hip-hop music, yet Hamilton has recently opened in the West End due to its stellar success in Broadway.

La La Land is a good movie. Excellent, even, owing to it’s fantastic success at last years award shows. Although The Greatest Showman hasn’t matched it’s success, the fact of the matter is that it still remains a better musical. As a movie, people can pinpoint how La La Land trumps it and that’s completely fair – but in years to come it should be The Greatest Showman that is looked upon as the great movie musical of this time, and rightfully so.

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