Client AR Kennedy, the author of a mystery series and the recently released Saving Ferris, discusses how a musical can teach us about "show, not tell."
I’m late to the party but The Greatest Showman has recently become my favorite movie.
I’m a huge Hugh Jackman fan. (I’m such a huge fan I stood in zero degree weather at night in NYC a few years ago to get his autograph after watching him on Broadway’s The River. He was brilliant. And, yes, I want him to play Wyatt Sewell if Saving Ferris ever becomes a movie.)
But I’m not a big fan of musicals so I didn’t see the movie until well after it’s theatrical release.
(If you haven’t seen it, stop here and go watch the movie. Then buy the soundtrack and listen to it. Repeatedly. It may be the best movie soundtrack I’ve ever heard. While out of the country recently, I listened to it multiple times every day. My travel companions were impressed by my ability not to sing along. It was a struggle.)
My favorite song from the soundtrack is “Never Enough,” sung by Loren Allred. It’s a beautiful song but my favorite scene of the film is another one. It’s a class on “Show Don’t Tell.” The only words in the scene are the song. Yet each character (P.T. Barnum played by Hugh Jackman, Charity played by Michelle Williams, Phillip played by Zac Efron, and Anne played by Zendaya) shows us so much without saying a word.
P.T.’s nervousness displayed by his fussing with his tux, looking up to heaven, and taking a deep breath.
The smiles his wife and daughter exchange as they wait excitedly for the concert to begin.
The way Charity fiddles with her hands as Jenny begins signing.
The surprised smile P.T. gives as Jenny Lind gives him a coy look.
The tentativeness with which Phillip and Anne hold hands.
P.T.’s shock realizing how talented Jenny is and looking to the audience to see if they are hearing what he is hearing.
Anne’s disappointment as Phillip pulls his hand away.
Phillip’s sadness at the end of the song.
Charity’s worry as she watches her husband watching his new talent.
Small movements, glances, and breathing patterns told us what each character was feeling without any of them saying a word.
To refresh your memory, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUkRoIMyqFo.
Rewatching the clip makes me want to sing, dye my hair red again, and write a great scene!
Lourdes Venard is a freelance editor and copyediting instructor.