It’s still somewhat hard to believe that the circus is gone. What began as P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling American Museum in the 1840s evolved, through mergers and Barnum’s own innovation, to become what we knew as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was an American institution as enduring as baseball, or so we thought. Twentieth Century Fox could not have foreseen what would eventually befall the circus when development on the upcoming musical biopic, The Greatest Showman, began in 2011.
For decades, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus lived up to its nickname as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Even before the ringmaster welcomed us as “children of all ages,” we would be thrilled by a mere glimpse of the elephants parading from the circus train through city streets to the venue. But times, tastes, and attitudes changed. The public’s interest in seeing klutzy clowns, daring trapeze artists, and wild jungle beasts waned. And questions over the treatment of the circus’ animals, especially the elephants, played a significant role in the company’s closing on May 21, 2017.
Hugh Jackman stars as Phineas Taylor Barnum in The Greatest Showman. It tells the story of how the Connecticut politician, entrepreneur, and impresario essentially invented the concept of “show business.” An uplifting message of acceptance is also woven into the narrative. Appearing alongside Jackman are Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, and Rebecca Ferguson.
The Greatest Showman opens nationwide on Christmas Day. I don’t know if the film will have any effect on the lingering perception of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but the timing certainly is interesting.