Oscar and Tony winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “Dear Evan Hansen”) wrote nine songs for “The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman as 19th-century circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, but one is grabbing the most attention (including Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award nominations): “This Is Me.”
The song, which was introduced to audiences early via the movie’s trailer, appears to have a future as an anthem for the marginalized, disenfranchised, the bullied and the outcast. And in a year when “diversity” is on everyone’s minds and lips, that means it could gain traction during awards season.
“This Is Me” is key to a subplot in the fanciful biopic involving Barnum’s showcase of human “oddities” (dismissed by critics as “freaks”) including a Bearded Lady played by Broadway singer-actress Keala Settle. Halfway through the narrative, Barnum momentarily shuns his discoveries, literally slamming the door in their faces at a high-society reception.
“She then finds her own sense of power and pride,” says Pasek. “It’s the moment where they realize, ‘We are who we are, and we’re going to own our own identity,'” adds Paul. “They march through the streets, through all the protestors, go back to their circus home and perform.”
Settle won the part during an early workshop of the songs. After belting lyrics from the second verse – “Another round of bullets hits my skin / Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in” — she turned her back on the studio execs, recalls Paul. “Keala [looked] to Hugh, took his hand and sang the last verse to him. He was crying and she was too. The whole room knew we were witnessing something extraordinary. She got the job that day.”