There are three kinds of film musicals – adaptations of stage productions (eg. “Chicago,” “Dreamgirls”), jukebox musicals which are built around pre-existing music (eg. “Moulin Rouge,” “Happy Feet”), and original musicals created for the screen (eg. “La La Land,” “Once”).
Hugh Jackman’s newest film “The Greatest Showman” is being heavily sold on its original musical status, but it turns out at one time there was a push by 20th Century Fox to do the film as a jukebox musical which are an easier sell as the audience is attracted by the songs they already knew. Speaking about this film about the life of P.T. Barnum, director Michael Gracey tells Den of Geek:
“There was a time when there was a lot of pressure to do it as a jukebox musical because then you know that people already love the songs. If you’re using hit songs, you’re halfway home. But Hugh and myself felt really strongly about creating an original musical with all original songs, and that one decision meant years and years and years of work trying to find the right people. When we found Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, at the time they had only done an off-Broadway show which were not the credentials that anyone felt confident about.”
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also did the songs for “La La Land,” which was a massive citical and commercial success. The same can’t be said for “The Greatest Showman” which was panned in reviews and opened soft over the Christmas holiday weekend.