Over the last few months, critics and audiences alike have been raving about The Greatest Showman, which has captured the imagination of young and old alike. Children have been singing the songs in the playground while their parents have listened to it on their way to work.
It’s with good reason. The film is beautifully choreographed, features some big stars, alongside catchy songs and has an incredibly uplifting storyline. It follows the life of PT Barnum from an impoverished child following the death of his parents, to a young husband to Charity – the love of his life; his desire to provide well for his growing family, to his role as the greatest showman in his circus tent. The film is a picture of strength and hope for people who feel themselves on the fringes of society, and of love triumphing over societal norms.
For young people it is an incredibly inspiring film by itself, and I would recommend watching it as part of a youth group. However, the songs are so rich that they can also be taken independently to challenge questions of faith, and their relationship with God and the church.
The questions below could be used by a group during or after a showing of the film – which is released this week, or could accompany just the soundtrack. They could be used together or on their own to facilitate a discussion. Whether or not you want to use the questions, I would still encourage you to watch the film.
The Greatest Show
-buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore
-it’s fire, it’s freedom
-the runaways are running the night
-where the lost get found
-it’s only this moment don’t care what comes after
-this is where you want to be
-the walls can’t stop us now
This is the only song that differs between the film and the soundtrack. The Greatest Show opens the film as PT Barnum’s vision for his circus, however we quickly realise that this is only a dream as he is pulled back to reality as a young boy staring at the ringmaster jacket in a shop. However, the song is repeated at the end of the film when the circus is relocated and is bigger and better than ever before.
Questions for discussion:
- Have you ever felt ‘the ache that you can’t ignore’?
- What do you/people try to fill it with?
- Does the circus cure the ache or is there still something missing?
- What can offer a greater fire and freedom?
The song starts with Hugh Jackman as the showman but by the end the part is taken over by Zac Efron and Zendaya as PT steps back to concentrate on his family, however the melody continues both in the circus tent, and in the play PT’s daughters are performing in. Can this speak into our faith and church leadership? The melody continues while the voices and setting change.
A Million Dreams
Key lyrics :
-it feels like home
-we can live in world that we design
-I think of what the world could be – a version of the one I see
-the world we’re gunna make
-each one there to make you smile
-let me be part of it all, share your dreams with me
-bring me along to the world you see
A young PT Barnum is consoling Charity, who is about to be sent to finishing school, with a vision of the wonderful things he sees in the most unlikely places. The children explore a derelict house and Pt shows her what can be made out of everyday objects to create beauty and joy. The song continues while the children grow up- Charity away at school, and PT struggling to make a life on the street. Eventually he catches a lucky break and returns as an adult to continue his life with Charity. He continues to find beauty in the mundane, as the couples rooftop dance shows. While PT worries that he can’t provide a life for Charity that is as grand as she is used to, all she wants is to be part of the vision she is convinced will change the world.
God has a picture of the perfect world he created. He created it for us and filled it with beautiful things to make us smile. He gives those who follow him that vision of how he intends the world to be and he invites us to share it with him. We can respond by believing and trusting in God’s vision, and like Charity, asking God to bring us along with him.
- What part of God’s vision might he be inviting you to be part of today?
–dead man walking
-take a world and redefine it
-light your light, let it burn so bright
-more than you could ever be
-can’t go back
-you believe the lie that you need to hide your face
-come one come all, you hear the call
-to anyone who’s searching for a way to break free
PT has now managed to secure himself a building and has been persuaded by his daughters to fill it with living things, not dead museum pieces. However, no-one has seen anything like it before, so he is having trouble persuaded people to buy a ticket. Here, PT has completed his cast and is inviting the respectable people around him to step inside and experience something that will transform how they see the world.
This song can be heard as an invitation to leave behind our normal lives to live the life that God has planned for us, to leave behind the shame that society burdens us with. The invitation is to anyone who can feel the absence of God in their life. It’s an opening to a new life, redefined by God’s standards, becoming the person he made you to be, Full of light and love.
- What do you need to leave behind to break free and start this new life with God?
- Can you hear God calling you to redefine your world into his light?
The Other Side
–I don’t want to chase you down but I know you see it
-don’t you want to get away from the same old part you gotta play?
-I got what you need, suddenly you’re free to fly
-I quite enjoy the life you say I’m trapped in
-I’m doing fine
-if I were mixed up with you I’d be the talk of the town, disgraced and disowned
-you could finally live a little, give you the freedom to dream a little
-take your walls and start them breaking
-whole new part you’re gonna play
The circus is doing well but is being objected to by people who find PT’s group of misfits indecent. PT and Charity have just been to watch their daughter Caroline in her ballet show, which is produced by Phillip Carlyle. Desperate to bring a level of respectability to his show, PT approaches Phillip to persuade him to join their show to bring freedom to Phillip, and class to the circus.
This song could be interpreted as an invitation to join the life God had planned for us, opening opportunities to do more than we think we can. Like PT, God gives us the option, he doesn’t force us but knows that on some level we’re looking for him. God doesn’t make deals with us like the one taking place here, but some people do come to know God when they cry out for help in a desperate time, see their prayers being answered, and take their belief in God as the other side of the deal. God is always looking for opportunities to make himself known, but he will never trick us into a relationship with him.
- What parts of your life would you not give up if God asked you to, that are not ‘part of the bargain’?
- Do you ever feel trapped by other people’s expectations?
- Are you afraid of what other people would say or think if they knew you were a Christian?
- What walls would you like God to break down?
-don’t let this moment end
-you set off a dream in me, getting louder now, can you hear it echoing?
-all the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough
-towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it will never be enough
-all the shine of a thousand spotlights
PT has persuaded the opera singer Jenny Lind to come to America, where he has promised to make her famous. While she sings this song, you can see PT dreaming of the fame and prestige that her association will bring him. However, Charity can see foreboding the song hints at, as PT and Jenny’s relationship will ultimately end in disaster.
This song is a good warning about holding onto the material things in life as having more importance than anything else. We can get caught in a cycle of always wanting more that we can never fulfil, so we end up disillusioned and unsatisfied. Blaise Pascal spoke about an abyss inside each of us that can only be filled with an infinite and immutable object, the only solution to which is God himself. Many Christians since have talked about a God shaped hole. People throughout the years have tried to fill it with drink, food, relationships, work, money, but have found that nothing can fully satisfy them without the presence of God in their lives.
- What are you holding on to that you are scared to let go of? A relationship? A way of thinking? A way of behaving?
- What are the stars you steal- the ideals of the wield that you aspire to? Fame? Fortune? Popularity? The best car or house? The ideal husband, wife, or children?
- Have you ever achieved or received something you desperately wanted and found it didn’t satisfy you the way you thought it would?
This Is Me
-I am not a stranger to the dark
-we don’t want your broken parts
-I learned to be ashamed of all my scars
-no one will love you as you are
-we are glorious
-I am who I’m meant to be
-I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies
-I won’t let the shame sink in
-we are bursting through the barricades and reaching for the Sun
-I know that I deserve your love, there’s nothing I’m not worthy of
Probably the most famous song from the film, Lettie (the bearded lady) and the other circus performers have just been rejected by PT from a champagne reception, in favour of Jenny Lind. Feeling the betrayal which resonates with how they have been treated throughout their lives, they leave the opera to return to the circus, full of a new passion and confidence.
This incredibly powerful song gives us a beautiful picture of strength in our own identity: our identity as loved by God – this is how he sees us. We all feel there’s something not good enough about us, that the world doesn’t want us because we’re in some way broken, but God’s love is not only revealed but made perfect in our brokenness.
- What are the scars you hide away from the world? Can you relate to the song?
- Do you find it easy to believe that this is how God sees you – beautiful and strong?
- How hard so you find it to live like this? Making no apologies for who you are, that you are worthy of God’s and other people’s love?
Rewrite The Stars
-don’t keep saying our hands are tied
-fate is pulling you miles away and out of reach from me
-you’re here in my heart so who can stop me if I decide that you’re my destiny?
-you were made to be mine, you were the one I was meant to find
-no one can say what we get to be
-there are doors that we can’t walk through
-when we go outside you’re going to wake up and see that it was hopeless after all
-everyone tells us what we can be
-all I want is to fly with you, give me all of you
-changing the world to be ours
After a disastrous trip to the theatre, Anne returns to the circus to immerse herself in the world she feels comfortable in, as opposed to the upper-class world Phillip is from that has just rejected her. Previously in the film, Phillip has acted on the tug back to that world, but here is a turning point in their relationship as he realises he would rather reject that world, in favour of a relationship with Anne.
Although a song between Phillip and Anne, this could also be heard as a love song between us and God. We were made to be with him and nothing on earth can keep us from his love – all we have to do is choose to say yes. It can feel that there is pressure to say no – society tells us that being a Christian is uncool or weak, it tells us that young people aren’t in, or don’t belong in the church. But imagine how we could change the world if, as a generation, we said yes?!
- Do you ever feel pressure to hide your faith?
- How do you feel about the idea that we were made to be in relationship with God?
–some people long for a life that is simple and planned
-I’d follow you to the great unknown
-hand in my hand we promise to never let go
-never sure, never know how far we could fall
-it’s all an adventure that comes with a breath-taking view
-I’d risk it all just to be with you
-never sure where you’ll catch me if I should fall
PT has made the decision to leave the circus to tour the country promoting the opera singer, Jenny Lind. To do this he leaves Charity and their two daughters at home for a tour which needs 42 shows to break even. The girls are distraught to see their Father go, and chase after his carriage, while Charity reflects on their relationship, and the choice that she made of a life of uncertainty and adventure, over the secure, protected life her father would have given her.
Charity’s song to her absent husband could give us a picture of the life we lead when we follow God. An exciting adventure with views we could never imagine, living in trust that God will protect us if things go wrong.
- Do you find safety in the familiar and planned or do you long to step out in faith?
- Can you give your life to God and trust that he will protect you? What are the barriers you have to letting go?
- Has God already entrusted you with the picture of what he has planned?
From Now On
-a man learns who is there for him when the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold
-from that rubble what remains can only be what’s true
-if all was lost there’s more I gained because it led me back to you
-these eyes will not be blinded by the light
-let this promise in me start, like an anthem in my heart
-the pitfalls of the man I became
-I chased their cheers at the crazy speed of always needing more
-I remember who all this was for
-my eyes will not be blinded by the lights
-we will come back home again
Here we find PT drinking his sorrows as his world has fallen apart- Charity has left him after a picture of him kissing Jenny was published, his circus has burned down, and he is in financial ruin. While sitting at the bar, Tom Thumb and the rest of the group come and find him and put his perspective back to the lives they had before the circus and remind him that they have lost a lot more. They succeed in reigniting his passion and persuading him to fight for what he’s lost.
This song is almost a word of warning for leaders. Are you at risk of getting so wrapped up in other’s opinions that you forget who you’re doing it for? Whether that comes from senior clergy, parishioners, building projects, liturgy, tradition, church numbers – do these take your attention away from the one the church is there for? Do you need to recommit yourself to God’s dream? To move his heart into your own again to make sure you’re working towards his goals? What emerges from the rubble of our lives, if we rebuild with God as the architect, is what he intended for us all along.