It’s not hard to convince a lot of pop stars to run off to the circus when that circus is the “Greatest Showman” score, the original soundtrack of which has been one of the biggest selling albums of 2018. Now, Variety can exclusively reveal that an all-star collection of new versions of those songs is due next month. “The Greatest Showman — Reimagined,” coming from Atlantic Records on Nov. 16, features fresh takes on the movie’s songs from the likes of Pink, Sara Bareilles, Kelly Clarkson and Panic! at the Disco.
Among the most intriguing tracks is a remix of the Oscar-nominated “This is Me” that has its original singer-actress, Keala Settle, joined by Kesha and Missy Elliott. Opening number “The Greatest Show” gets the tandem treatment, as rock band Panic! at the Disco perform one version and, as a bonus track, a cappella kings and queens Pentatonix reprise with another. A reigning queen of theatrical pop, Bareilles, sings “Tightrope.” Country-rockers the Zac Brown Band may be the oddest men out, taking on “From Now On.” Or maybe that honor belongs to rapper Ty Dolla Sign, who joins up with MAX for “The Other Side.”
Variety caught up with Panic! singer Brendan Urie at a recent show, and he described his enthusiasm over being asked to participate in the “Reimagined” album. “Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are phenomenal writers,” Urie said. “They sent that song over and said, ‘We think you should sing this.’ And I heard it and I was like, ‘This sounds like a Panic! song. You guys did a Panic! song better than I’ve ever done a Panic! song. So I would love to.’” And then, over the course of this year, Urie had his doubts it would come together. “I tried it, and then for whatever reason — labels, management, I’m not sure why — I got cut out of the process and it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. But finally I hooked back up with them and we got a demo version recorded and they mixed it and are putting it out. It’s awesome,” he gushed.
Kevin Weaver, Atlantic’s president, west coast (who served as one of four producers on the overall project, along with Pasek, Paul and Pete Ganbarg, the label’s president of A&R) explained to Variety the thought process that went into the album and how it took three quarters of a year to bring it in just under the bell for the holiday buying season.
“Last January or February, when we were doing 100,000 albums a week in the U.S. and it was number one in most of the territories of the world, I had a light bulb moment,” Weaver said. “We really realized we had something at the scale of what this was becoming, and we were quickly like, all right, do we want to do a deluxe version of the album for Mother’s Day? What would that look like? Do we want to take the original cast album and add a couple covers to it, or add some additional demos? But it felt like it warranted something much more significant and robust. Then you had people like Pink and Selena Gomez and other artists who were on social media posting themselves dancing to and singing the songs. And that was part of kind of what went into my epiphany that we have something that’s not only connecting with the masses, but it’s connecting with artists.” As precedent, Atlantic had done “The Hamilton Mixtape,” a similar album of all-star covers, and “I said this deserves that treatment and same caliber of attention.”
So how much were the artists Atlantic went to ready to sign up from the get-go, and how many had to think for a minute about whether they and cinematic musical theater were a good match? “I think it’s a little bit of both,” Weaver says. “I mean, the Panic! guys definitely immediately got the connection with how the theatrical aspect of who they are as a band fits in the wheelhouse of what this was. Pink was posting stuff on social media with her and her daughter talking about it and singing the songs, so that was a natural fit.” (Pink’s daughter, Willow, makes her recorded debut on the album, singing a reprise of “A Million Dreams.”) “Sara Bareilles is very close with Benj and Justin, and so those guys actually had initiated her being a part of this thing, and she immediately reacted to it and that was one of the songs that we got done very early on.”
Some other picks eased into the idea. “I would say that most of these artists ended up having a connection with the film by way of this process,” Weaver says. “Another really interesting one is when we went to Zac Brown to record ‘From Now On.’ We pitched him the idea; he said he wanted to do it and started working on his version of the song, and then shortly thereafter he started playing in his live show.”
A few of the names that may be less familiar to general American audiences will be very familiar to British audiences, which is quite deliberate. “From a purely streaming perspective, the song that actually streams more than anything else is ‘Rewrite the Stars’,” says Weaver. They gave that to the duo of James Arthur and Anne-Marie.
“The album just went four times platinum in the UK and spent more weeks at number one than Adele’s ‘21’ or any other record in the last 30 years. So it was important to me to really try to do something to serve the UK market, so that’s the why I put James Arthur and Anne-Marie on one of the most important songs, and why I put Jess Glynne and Years & Years on ‘Come Alive,’ and why I added a Craig David version of ‘Come Alive’ as a bonus track — to be thoughtful to the success of the album in the UK, wanting to include elements that honored that.”
Greg Wells, who produced the original soundtrack, repeated his duties for Pink’s (and her daughter’s) contribution to the new album. Wells’ stems from the familiar Keala Settle version of “This is Me” were employed for the Keala/Kesha/Missy remix on the new album, but that number is the only one using any recorded elements from the previous album. Other producers on individual tracks include the Smeezingtons. Bruno Mars’ frequent collaborators, and Zach Skelton, who’s part of the Ryan Tedder production camp.
“Reimagined” seems destined to get some love from old-school CD buyers over the holidays, but it’s not the only fresh “Greatest Showman” music product going into the marketplace. In late October it’s being preceded by a two-CD “sing-along” deluxe edition of the original soundtrack that includes a karaoke-style disc, “and I think that one is going to be as big, if not bigger, to be honest with you,” Weaver says. In other words, if there’s a voice fans of the movie may want to hear singing these songs even more than Kelly Clarkson’s or Kesha’s, it’s probably their own.
“The Greatest Showman — Reimagined” track list:
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