Never listen to the critics. They panned ‘The Greatest Showman’ on its release and it’s gone on to become one of the highest-grossing musicals of all time, taking more than ‘Grease’, ‘The Sound Of Music’ and ‘La La Land’ at box offices around the world.
The critics hated ‘The Greatest Showman’. The public loved it. And frankly I love it too.
‘The Greatest Showman’ is the sort of film they don’t make any more. The sort of film I thought I’d never see again.
And how they got action hero Hugh Jackman to take on the lead role is completely beyond me. Clearly the producer was very persuasive…
There are so many great songs in ‘The Greatest Showman’ that I could probably write about them all. But today, it’s all about “Rewrite The Stars”, sung by Zac Efron and Zendaya.
I won’t go into the story as you really need to see the movie for yourself, but without giving too much away let’s just say this is one of those “poor girl meets rich boy whose parents don’t approve of their relationship” situations…
In the film, “Rewrite The Stars” takes place in the circus ring with a superb performance involving a large number of ropes and sandbags, together with trapeze work which I find endlessly fascinating. (Side note… ‘The Greatest Showman’ is probably worth watching just for the choreography which is every bit as phenomenal as the songs…)
“Rewrite The Stars” was written by ace songwriting duo Pasek and Paul, who take a familiar theme…your future is written in the stars…and give it a very neat little twist…
What if that wasn’t true, they asked themselves…what if you didn’t need to follow the story that had already been written for you…what if you could re-write what was written for you in the stars?
I loved that idea, and how that little twist allowed us the opportunity to think differently about a familiar situation.
It’s easy to say that you can do anything you want. And that’s largely true. A bigger consideration is often what you have to give up in order to get what you want. For too many of us, that isn’t a price we’re prepared to pay, so we stay exactly where we are, dreaming of the day when everything will be different…the day that never comes…
Of course, wanting something you can’t have and giving up everything to get it is a bit easier when you have very little to give up in the first place. That’s why so many incredibly successful people started with nothing…if they had started with something they might have been less ambitious and more protective, but with nothing to lose, why not take on the world?
In ‘The Greatest Showman’, that cuts two ways. Hugh Jackman as PT Barnum has nothing and pursues a society lady. Zac Efron is a respected figure in high society who pursues a trapeze artist in PT Barnum’s circus. Both have to give up their old lives to find the special person they’d been looking for all along.
Zac Efron gets us started when he tells Zendaya how he feels…
You know I want you
It’s not a secret I try to hide
I know you want me
So don’t keep saying our hands are tied
You see, men can be hopeless romantics too. Zac Efron was blinded by his feelings for this trapeze artist from the wrong side of the tracks and he couldn’t see anything to stop them being together…there was no mountain he wouldn’t climb, no river he wouldn’t swim, no society taboo he wouldn’t take on to be with the woman he loved.
Zendaya’s perspective is interesting. Rather than being swept along with this and going willingly into a fairytale life, she’s the one who sees barriers Zac Efron can’t…or won’t…
You think it’s easy
You think I don’t want to run to you
But there are mountains
And there are doors that we can’t walk through
That’s often the way when you’ve been let down too many times. After a while you stop believing that things can get better, that the opportunities open to others are open to you too, that you really can have the life you want.
But Zendaya has got the likely view of polite society pretty well sorted out…
I know you’re wondering why
Because we’re able to be
Just you and me within these walls
But when we go outside, you’re gonna wake up
And see that it was hopeless after all
Even back in the late 1800s it was considered acceptable for the privileged to explore their private peccadilloes, so long as it stayed well under wraps and nobody was confronted with the “embarrassment” of, say, a society gentleman taking up with a girl from the circus.
Structurally, Pasek and Paul put things together really nicely in their lyrics. At the start of the song, Zac Efron is declares his love and says they should write the story of their own lives together, no matter what anybody thinks.
Then Zendaya gives all the reasons they can’t, that society wouldn’t allow it, that his family would be scandalised. Her verse is virtually word-for-word the same as Zac Efron’s, except whereas his is expressed in the positive, hers is expressed in the negative…
Zac Efron’s “what if we rewrite the stars” becomes “no-one can rewrite the stars” in Zendaya’s verse, for example.
Finally they try to work it out together. It moves from “yes we can”, through “no we can’t” to “how could we”…
How is a powerful word.
Once you start asking how to make something happen, you’ve already acknowledged, even subconsciously, that (a) it’s something you want to happen and (b) you think it might be possible.
That’s why this duet makes such an impact…
How do we rewrite the stars
Say you were made to be mine
Nothing can keep us apart
’Cause you are the one I was meant to find
It’s up to you and it’s up to me
No-one can say what we get to be
Why don’t we rewrite the stars
Changing the world to be ours
But in a final note of pathos, Zendaya, who we have to assume has been swept along briefly on the back of Zac Efron’s evident enthusiasm, brings her practicality to the fore again. Before walking off into the darkness outside the circus ring, away from the stage lights, she whispers an almost carbon copy of the words Zac Efron used to start the song in the first place…
You know I want you
It’s not a secret I try to hide
But I can’t have you
We’re bound to break and my hands are tied
What a song this is…
A roller-coaster of emotions, looking at the problem from first one perspective, then the other, followed by an attempt to make things work between them. Then the poignancy of the music fading out, Zendaya whispering that she doesn’t think it will work out after all, much as she wishes it could, and walking off into the darkness, leaving Zac Efron on his own in the middle of the circus ring, his disappointment silhouetted by a solitary spotlight.
You can’t fail to be touched by the song, the lyrical structure that loops around on itself and explores multiple perspectives on a complex topic in just a few moments, and of course the excellent performances from Zac Efron and Zendaya.
Hats off to Pasek and Paul for this tale of forbidden love…time to buckle up — the emotional roller-coaster is about to start…
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