A year after its release, The Greatest Showman returns to the music charts with a completely reworked soundtrack, guaranteed to make you want to join the circus all over again.
Nearly a year ago, one of the most unique, catchy, and downright brilliant musicals ever made came to the big screen. Arriving with minimal fanfare after numerous years in development, The Greatest Showman took the Broadway community by storm, introducing a new generation to the fascinating life of P.T. Barnum, founder of The Greatest Show on Earth. I had followed the film’s production since it was announced, and upon my first viewing in December 2017, I simply had no words. The Greatest Showman is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking; a story about one man’s dream to inspire the world and leave a lasting legacy, while unknowingly sacrificing his closest relationships along the way. As a musical motion picture, the film is stunning, having been nominated for multiple awards in costume design and makeup. It’s colorful where it counts, and somber in tone when the need arises. Over my three viewings in theaters, and many more on home video, I have always shed tears and sung along.
Perhaps the strongest quality of The Greatest Showman is its music, which has not only won the film a Golden Globe among other accolades, but has inspired countless covers, and even piqued the interest of Broadway geniuses to possibly produce a real stage show. The aforementioned award-winning song, “This Is Me,” has become sort of an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community, and has arguably become more popular thanks to Kesha’s moving – albeit bland – cover. So after a year of cementing itself as a modern family classic and establishing a massive musical fan base, it should come as no surprise that on November 16, The Greatest Showman Reimagined was released: the film’s original soundtrack composed entirely of covers by some of the biggest names in music. This album, overall, is a dream-fulfilling breath of fresh air. It takes the classic album that my family and I have listened to death, and makes it a completely new experience again. While not every performance is memorable, and some are fairly mediocre, all of these artists should be commended for providing their own unique spin on an existing bop.
The album opens with the same tune as the original soundtrack, “The Greatest Show.” This song’s importance goes deeper than the album itself; “The Greatest Show” literally opens the film. There’s a lot of pressure on Panic! At The Disco to deliver an in-your-face anthem that is simultaneously showstopping, and show-starting. Unfortunately, this rendition falls short of the original’s brilliance. Panic! chose to shorten the intro of the song, which removes a lot of the suspense and buildup to the film’s most ensemble-heavy tune. The bridge is also eliminated, making the song feel rushed and noticeably shorter in length. Luckily, Brendan Urie’s vocals are just as strong and enjoyable here as any other Panic! At The Disco song. A Broadway alumnus himself – he performed in Kinky Boots last year – Urie knows how to belt out a show tune or two. Fortunately for him and some of the other artists on this album, The Greatest Showman successfully blends standard Broadway numbers with pop/rock song stylings to create an original sound that stands up against the contemporary Billboard chart-toppers. Case in point, Panic! At The Disco’s introduction to The Greatest Showman Reimagined may fail to overshadow Hugh Jackman’s breathtaking number, but this version is certainly amusing as a basic pop tune.
Track two and three are performed by pop queen Pink (or P!nk, as the album suggests) and her seven-year-old daughter, Willow Sage Hart, respectively. “A Million Dreams” is utilized in the film to introduce the audience to P.T. Barnum’s wild imagination, as he progresses through his young life alongside his future wife, Charity. It’s a fairly long song that visually represents the two coming of age, with intermittent key changes as words are passed from young Barnum to old Barnum, to Charity, ending in a spine-tingling harmony that leaves me with a smile every time I hear it. My point here is that I would not choose Pink as my first choice to cover this song. Not at any point in her history; not “Get The Party Started” Pink, nor “Sober” Pink, nor “Beautiful Trauma” Pink. I think my ignorance of Pink on this album would be met with positive feedback, as this rendition just doesn’t make the cut. Simply put, it’s Pink singing “A Million Dreams” over an instrumental track; nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, her daughter’s rendition of “A Million Dreams (Reprise)” is done the same way, but her vocals are even worse than the original’s. I heard the P!nk cover as a single before the album was even released, and it was disappointing then, as well. There is no originality, and the entire track feels lifeless. This cover should’ve been produced as a duet by stronger singers, and the “Reprise” should have been sung by an actual child singer – my mind goes to Frozen’s Young Anna on Broadway, Mattea Conforti – not just Pink’s daughter because she was in the studio that day. It’s not a complete butchering of “A Million Dreams” and its “Reprise”, but for an album dubbed “Reimagined,” there’s not a lot of imagination in these two covers.
“Come Alive” is covered twice on The Greatest Showman Reimagined, and both versions keep the upbeat party feel intact. The first rendition, done by Years & Years and Jess Glynne, feels like an Earth, Wind & Fire song, and adding Glynne – best known for singing on Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” – was a brilliant choice. “Come Alive” is already a toe-tapping earworm, but their take turns it into a bona fide party anthem. There are some rhythmic changes, the tempo being the most notable, but the Michael Jackson-infused beat makes the catchy song even more groovy. Craig David’s bonus track takes “Come Alive” in a different direction, swapping that 70’s funk for 90’s hip-hop reminiscent of Usher or Ne-Yo. It begins with a slower tempo that feels like a John Legend-esque ballad, but once that chorus hits, the party groove returns and the song gets more upbeat, as it should be. Even the bridge’s breakdown in the Craig David version provides a unique spin, and it proves that “Come Alive” is really The Greatest Showman‘s hidden party jam. Both artists do an excellent job with this one.
As mentioned before, The Greatest Showman can be quite ensemble heavy, as seen in the album’s lead track, as well as songs like “This Is Me” and “From Now On,” which I will touch upon shortly. But two of the songs, “Rewrite the Stars” and “The Other Side,” are strictly duets, and they are where the film’s Broadway roots really show. Because these duets rely on chemistry and some legitimate acting, the casting can be difficult for these roles. Fortunately, Reimagined brought in some crazy surprises that genuinely blew me away. The first of which was “The Other Side”, which saw MAX and Ty Dolla $ign playing off each other, rather brilliantly, as Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron did in the movie. I was shocked to hear Ty Dolla $ign actually singing, and how good he was at it! Granted, I don’t listen to him much, but I knew of him primarily as an auto-tuned rapper and was thoroughly surprised to hear him singing and acting in an entertaining way. As for the song overall, the country feel remains intact while MAX sings, and Ty brings the hip-hop in with background snaps and a drum track. The song straddles the line between classical and modern, and it serves as a smart reimagining of one of the movie’s riskiest songs.
“Rewrite the Stars,” on the other hand, falls into the disappointing category for much of the track. As a duet, it works fairly well. Both James Arthur and Anne-Marie bring their own unique voices to the table, and together they blend into a mostly satisfying performance. Unfortunately, on his own, James Arthur falls flat on his face. The “Say You Won’t Let Go” singer sounds warbly and auto-tuned, opting for whiny vocalizations over the traditional piano background music. I can see why the English singer would want to show off his chops, but compared to Anne-Marie who absolutely knocks it out of the park with her harmonies and powerful vocals, he’s left looking humiliated, dragging this cover down and nearly ruining a modern musical classic. On the topic of disappointing covers, I should mention “Tightrope,” sung by the incomparable Sara Bareilles. A Broadway icon herself, having written music for Waitress and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, Sara Bareilles is a queen of the theater and a vocal powerhouse. Unfortunately, she took “Tightrope” and muddled it up with weird overlapping vocals and time signature inconsistencies. Granted, Michelle Williams didn’t do much better with her auto-tuned voice in the film, but it just felt like Sara was adding far too much to this rendition. She could’ve simply sat at a piano and done an acoustic cover, and the world would’ve been completely satisfied. Sara Bareilles excels at slow, mellow songs, yet somehow she managed to make one worse this time around.
I’ve avoided the subject long enough, but I have to address “This Is Me” eventually. When this song was introduced in the film, I remember my mom leaning over and saying “This is going to become a giant anthem about acceptance,” and she couldn’t have been more correct. The song garnered praise and numerous award nominations, even winning the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in 2018. Let’s be clear, “This Is Me” is still a total jam. It’s just a real shame that a lot of its success came from Kesha’s cover, which served as a continuation of her “courage in the face of adversity” following her public court case and her massive single “Praying”. Her version of the song is plain and uninspired; Kesha can barely hold the simplest notes and leaves a lot of breathy gaps between the lyrics. I truly could never wrap my head around why this cover made the radio over the original, and why the public rallied around it so much. To make matters worse, the Kesha cover isn’t the only version of “This Is Me” on The Greatest Showman Reimagined. “This Is Me (The Reimagined Remix)” is quite literally a mash-up of Kesha’s rendition and the original, sung by Broadway star Keala Settle, with a rap introduction by Missy Elliott. This rap includes a few impressive rhymes, but for the most part, it’s a completely unnecessary poem of empowerment that feels incredibly out of place both on this track, and on this album. Fortunately, the rap interlude during the bridge is fairly entertaining, but overall there is no need for Missy Elliott in this song. Furthermore, with this song being just two songs smashed together, and not a true re-recording with Kesha and Keala, there is no need for it at all. It feels entirely unoriginal, and it’s frankly upsetting to be given this lackluster rehash of a brilliantly imaginative show tune.
The best songs on this album came from some of the most unexpected places. Kelly Clarkson is known for her extreme voice, and her ability to reimagine songs has already been seen on The Hamilton Mixtape, in which she covered “It’s Quiet Uptown,” the show’s most heart-wrenching tearjerker, in a way that was both powerful and overwhelmingly beautiful. Whereas she changed some lyrics in that cover, however, she stuck to the source material in its entirety with The Greatest Showman‘s “Never Enough.” This song requires strong vocal talent, having originally been sung by The Voice runner-up Loren Allred, and Clarkson delivers with a resounding A+ performance. She changes the song’s structure a bit, most notably in the way she holds certain notes, but overall her vocals are limitless, producing one of the best songs on the album, and one of the best covers I have ever heard. Those drums in the background, and those pipes, man! Clarkson absolutely nails every high note in a way that sends shivers down my spine. Now all I want is a music video, and I’ll be set for life.
Another song that could benefit from a grand-scale music video is Zac Brown Band’s “From Now On”, which is, no doubt, the most reimagined song on the entire 19-track album. Violins, banjos, and booming drums remake all the music from scratch, and the Zac Brown Band’s ensemble provides a true family sound to The Greatest Showman‘s most family-centric song. It’s just a perfect blend of authentic country music and gratifying vocals, serving as a true love letter to The Greatest Showman by one of the biggest names in country music. From the somber intro to the chilling breakdown, I was in ecstasy from beginning to end. While I’m also very partial to the cover by Broadway star Ramin Karimloo – which unfortunately didn’t make it on this album – this rousing rendition of “From Now On” truly made me the happiest to be a fan of this brilliant cinematic masterpiece.
Ending as we began, I owe a bit of an apology to a lifelong enemy, Pentatonix. I have hated this acappella cover band for over five years now, calling them talentless, overrated, and some other insults that I shouldn’t say in front of the children. In all my years of acknowledging their existence, I have only liked one of their covers…until The Greatest Showman Reimagined was released. As I said before, I did not hate Panic! At The Disco’s rendition of “The Greatest Show”, but it served more like a pop song rather than a show tune. Enter: Pentatonix, who completely blew me away with their outstanding performance of “The Greatest Show”. After recently gaining a new bassist in their a cappella quintet, I hadn’t heard this new crew in action yet. Fortunately, the band opted to let the one guy I can tolerate sing lead vocals – apparently his name is Scott – and he knocked it out of the park. Meanwhile, the other two singers provide some amazing harmonies, and while the song also skips the extended intro, Pentatonix chose to include the bridge, which adds some bulk to the tune, making it more enticing compared to the Panic! version. Thus, I owe Pentatonix an apology for all those years of hate, as they have successfully gained my respect through this brilliant a cappella cover of The Greatest Showman‘s most complex number. Furthermore, all of these artists deserve some respect for taking on a huge undertaking, one which required putting an original spin on some of the most influential music of the past year.
The Greatest Showman has inspired countless fans in one year alone, spawning covers from viewers the world over, and building upon a devoted culture of musical theater lovers, like myself, that hate to see the things they love get messed with. While some of the performances fell flat because of too much ambition, or not enough of it, there’s no denying a lot of talent and work went into producing a complete reimagining of one of the most awe-inspiring musicals ever made. Without a doubt, this album will help solidify the legacy P.T. Barnum always wanted.