Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Zac Efronhas spent a lot of time trying to distance himself from High School Musical. He hasn't fully eschewed the source of his early fame the way that some other Disney alum have, but his past roles read like a one-page book on "How to make the world forget you were Troy Bolton."
There was the time he played the soldier in the Nicholas Sparks movie. There was 17 Again, the raunchy comedy he did opposite Leslie Mann. And who could forget that romance movie with Nicole Kidman—nothing proves that you're trying to eschew your teen-movie typecasting like getting peed on.
In recent years Efron has kept his film roles more solidly in the bro category: the frat bro, the EDM bro, the bro trying to navigate the dating world, the bro who parties with Robert De Niro, the bro who needs a wedding date, the lifeguard bro. But this holiday season, in perhaps the greatest Christmas gift that High School Musical fans could possibly have conjured up, he is returning to his song-and-dance roots.
Efron is, of course, starring in The Greatest Showman, the flick that chronicles—loosely—the crazy comeuppance of one P.T. Barnum, the inventor of the circus. He, of course, stars opposite Hugh Jackmanand Zendaya, and if you didn't already know any of this information then you must make room for us under your rock. Showman is notable for many things: The fact that they managed to score the composers from La La Land, the fact that it conveniently glosses over some of the shadier parts of Barnum's personality, the fact that Michelle Williamsactually looks pretty great in a long blonde wig.
But for these purposes the movie is notable for one thing and one thing only: That someone finally convinced Zac Efron to get back to musicals after what everyone thought would be a permanent hiatus. The actor's sudden dropping out of Footloose because of the typecasting he felt following HSM and Hairspray is still felt the world over—at least in certain circles. Sure, it was great for Miles Teller, but it wasn't great for Zac's fans. Where would we turn to hear those smooth, smooth falsettos? Where would we turn to see those smooth, smooth hip thrusts?
That fact that a team of directors and producers was able to get him back into his dancing shoes is a feat worthy of praise and it has us asking a very big question: Is that what he should really be doing? Should he make this return permanent?
There are plenty of reasons why the answer is yes. To start it's where he has his entire fan base. The box office results for The Greatest Showman will of course need to speak for themselves, but the original High School Musical obsessives have now grown up into high-spending millennials who have a very large soft spot for nostalgia. And he's just plain good at it.
In The Greatest Showman he plays Jackman's right-hand-man in pretty much every context of the saying: His character, Phillip Carlyle, is a multi-millionaire whom Barnum recruits to help take the circus show to the next level and eventually becomes his predecessor in the ring. The movie is, for all intents and purposes, Hugh Jackman's show, but Zac manages to steal pretty much every scene he's in. The movie is never better than when the two men are dancing around on old time-y bar countertops and singing in perfect harmony.
Efron's musical ability is something to marvel at, especially considering he never received any formal training in the way some of his contemporaries did. (Let's all remember that his vocals were, in fact, edited out during the original HSM installment). And there's no accounting for his looks, which will ultimately be the biggest draw in any of his movies and draws major comparisons to Hugh himself. It helps make the argument that following the elder music man's footsteps is anything but a mistake.
It's also worth pointing out that Efron seems to have found a certain type of success in The Greatest Showman, even before it officially hits theaters, that he never reached in this latest career path. While his star power has risen consistently with every role, none of his recent films have received any formal critical recognition. Showman was nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture for the Musical or Comedy category. The saying might be to follow your bliss, but in this business you should probably also follow the gold statues.
His next career moves don't exactly point to a return to musicals—although we're here to officially start the Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman for Joint Tony Host movement—he's set to start filming a movie by the creator of Spring Breakers (alongside Matthew McConaugheyand Isla Fisher) and he's also going to be taking on the highly-anticipated role of Ted Bundy. But they do suggest a possible need to get back to the lighter, more family-friendly roles that he built his fame on.
There's such a thing as being typecast as an a--hole, and while the actor himself is far from that persona, the people he's playing onscreen aren't exactly upstanding citizens. (No offense to Teddy from Neighbors; it seems like he's really getting his life together).
If The Greatest Showman can teach Zac anything—besides that the world is better when he's singing in it—it's that the Hugh Jackman path is a good one.