Hugh Jackman’s Live Ad Last Night for The Greatest Showman Was Quite the Circus

A technicolor dreamcoat of a spot

Headshot of Angela Natividad

Five … four … three … two … one! Let the show begin.

Last night, during Fox’s airing of the musical A Christmas Story Live, a 2:30 ad appeared—that was also produced live—for 20th Century Fox’s The Greatest Showman, featuring Hugh Jackman performing a song as its main character, P.T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus (the greatest show in town!).

The color-saturated work also featured co-stars Zac Efron, Zendaya and Keala Settle as an epic bearded lady.

“We are creating what we expect will be a memorable performance providing energy and excitement to viewers that drives them to see The Greatest Showman,” said Michelle Marks, senior vp of marketing and global media promotions for 20th Century Fox Film, ahead of the transmission. “This first-ever live commercial for a feature film is one that P.T. Barnum would be proud of and one that I hope paves the way for future titles.”

Directed by The Greatest Showman’s own Michael Gracey, and Beth McCarthy-Miller, “Come Alive” featured 150 dancers in period costume with fun, circussy enhancements, like bright pink wigs and gowns in vibrant shades of violet or blue-green, breaking from the practical shades of the 19th century.

The “freak show” element upon which Barnum made his living is glammed up and romanticized, transformed into a technicolor homily that feels more about celebrating inclusion, particularly for the people who populated his band—bearded ladies, tattooed men, conjoined twins and little people.

Some aren’t so forgetful.

The Guardian vigilantly reminds readers of Barnum’s “Strange and Savage Tribes” exhibit, which featured “bewildered indigenous people or fake ones in costumes”—like “Circassian Beauties” whose fake Afros were puffed up with beer. African Americans were often exhibited with birth defects to illustrate racial inferiority. And let’s not forget Joice Heth, a blind and partially paralyzed slave whom Barnum claimed was 161 years old: When she died, he organized a public autopsy and charged people to watch.

Of Barnum himself, Jackman—who’s played outsiders with pathos—told the Guardian: “His belief was what makes you different makes you special … You can be discriminated for that, but if you own up to it and we start to embrace everybody, then it can be what makes life special and fantastic.”

That’s very much the narrative that leaps out of “Come Alive,” and the improbable way townspeople leap in to dance alongside Barnum’s so-called “Freaks.” This feels more like a Disney-caliber tolerance parable, riding the petticoats of the dying institution of the circus—which, despite its faults, emits kitschy but undeniable nostalgia.

Fiery hoop performers come to mind, not to mention the quirky-elegant Cirque du Soleil and those wacky Human Cannonballs—the youngest of which was 25-year-old Gemma Kirby, herself a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus performer.

Our advice? Watch the film, but with eyes wide open.

“As we continue to drive innovation in both our programming and ad products, we are thrilled to be working in partnership with our sister film studio in this exciting live holiday event,” says Suzanne Sullivan, evp of entertainment ad sales for Fox Networks Group.

The song “Come Alive” was written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also wrote the score and songs for A Christmas Story. The spot was part of a partnership between Fox’s film and TV branches to cross-promote both A Christmas Story and The Greatest Showman both via broadcast and in theaters.

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.