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'Greatest Showman' Re-Imagined


"The Greatest Showman" is a visual feast.


ENSEMBLE: (Singing) Whoa.

PFEIFFER: The movie portrays the early life of P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. And it's filled with bearded ladies, giant strong men and acrobatic feats by strange humans and exotic beasts. It also features Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya. But the real star is the music.


HUGH JACKMAN: (Singing) Don't fight it. It's coming for you, running at ya. It's only this moment - don't care what comes after. Your fever dream - can't you see? - getting closer. Just surrender 'cause you feel the feeling taking over.

PFEIFFER: The film's soundtrack is the best-selling album of the year - more than 2 million copies sold. Now a new version has arrived that seemed designed to keep those sales chugging.


PANIC! AT THE DISCO: (Singing) So tell me. Do you wanna go where it's covered in all the colored lights, where the runaways are running the night? Impossible comes true...

PFEIFFER: It's the same song, but this cut appears on the new CD called "The Greatest Showman: Reimagined." On the new disc, bands like Panic! At The Disco and artists like Kelly Clarkson take over singing duties for the original cast.


PANIC! AT THE DISCO: (Singing) Oh, this is the greatest show.

PFEIFFER: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are the producers of this new batch of songs. And they co-wrote the original songs for the musical. Welcome to you both.

BENJ PASEK: Thanks for having us.

JUSTIN PAUL: Thank you so much.

PFEIFFER: Benj and Justin, what made you think that the world needed to hear these songs again in new versions?

PASEK: You know, we were really excited when we were hearing the response to the songs and the music very early on. It's definitely an album that families are playing with their kids and that kids are singing with their parents. And then we started to see lots of artists would write about the songs online. Artists like Kelly Clarkson or - we always wanted to have the songs covered. And this felt like a really, really fun way to get to include some of our favorite artists who seemed to be fans of the music.


KELLY CLARKSON: (Singing) Towers of gold are still too little. These hands could hold the world, but it'll never be enough - never be enough for me. Never, never...

PFEIFFER: You mentioned kids and families. I have an 8-year-old niece. And I visited her recently. And she kept belting out these songs. And then we watched the movie together, and I kind of got it. I mean, they're very singable. You want to belt them out. Do you have a theory for why that original soundtrack has been as popular as it is?

PAUL: (Laughter) You know, I think the spirit of the film was that we were creating something for families to enjoy, something that everyone could access, something that was hopeful. And we're really proud of that.

PASEK: They're really not cynical. It really is a collection of songs that celebrates dreaming, that celebrates not what the world is but what the world could be. And sometimes we just want to sing. We want to believe that humanity is good and that the world is going to be better if we believe that it can be. And I think that that message has really resonated.


CLARKSON: (Singing) But it'll never be enough...

PFEIFFER: Was there also a very pragmatic marketing reason, you know, the sort of - this commercial opportunity to keep selling more albums of these great songs but with bigger name artists?

PAUL: All these sort of ancillary iterations of the songs and everything is sort of a way to keep the movie alive. And I think, hopefully, maybe brings in people who might never have heard of the movie or might never have want to see it. But then they suddenly see, oh, I'm a fan of Ty Dolla $ign. And Ty Dolla $ign is singing a song from this film. So I should check it out.


MAX AND TY DOLLA $IGN: (Singing) Don't you wanna get away to a whole new part you're gonna play 'cause I got what you need. So come with me and take the ride. It'll take you to the other side.

PFEIFFER: How much work did you put into the new songs versus that you left the new artists to kind of retouch and make their own?

PAUL: We really ran the gamut in terms of what our involvement was. At certain moments, something like "The Other Side" - we knew we wanted to keep the theatricality of it. Something like "Rewrite The Stars" with James Arthur and Anne-Marie - the decision was - hey - we want to make something that could really feel like it could be on the radio today.


ANNE-MARIE: (Singing) No one can rewrite the stars. How can you say you'll be mine? Everything keeps us apart. And I'm not the one you were meant to find.

PFEIFFER: I get the sense that you've almost cracked the code for the recipe for prize-winning songs that are really soaring and really emotional. People just want to belt them out. And, you know, even before this project, your songwriting has won a Golden Globe, an Oscar, a Grammy. Do you feel like you have the recipe for how you send shivers down the spine or bring tears to the eye and create so much feeling with music?

PASEK: I wish that we had any sort of recipe. But thank you for saying that. I think, for us, we really are guys who came from the world of theater. And so everything that we develop is really a collaboration with directors and actors and writers. And I think, really, what's responsible is a combination of so many different elements.

PFEIFFER: P!nk is one of the musicians on the new album.


P!NK: (Singing) Close my eyes and I can see a world that's waiting up for me that I call my own.

PFEIFFER: How much help does she need to find her voice or to strike the right notes in the song she did which was "A Million Dreams?"

PAUL: I think we acted like she needed help, which required us to be in the studio with her. I'm sure she didn't think she needed any help at all. And, in fact, she didn't.


P!NK: (Singing) They can say - they can say it all sounds crazy. They can say - they can say I've lost my mind.

PAUL: We certainly didn't come in there saying, hey, you need to try more this way and punch this forward. We walked out of there saying, why are you not in our world? Why are you not doing Broadway shows? You're a storyteller. You're an actress. It was mind-blowing to get to watch her craft the song and make it her own.


P!NK: (Singing) 'Cause every night I lie in bed. The brightest colors fill my head. A million dreams are keeping me awake.

PFEIFFER: Do you like any of these new songs better than the originals, if you can be honest about that?

PASEK: (Laughter) We can't answer that.

PAUL: No. They really are of two different worlds. You know, I think nothing for us will replace that original soundtrack. They live as one with the film. These new versions were really intentionally created for listening. You know, you throw on one of your favorite artists and hear their interpretation of the song. I think we look at them in two different columns. And that allows us to love all of our children equally.

PFEIFFER: That's Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting duo and the producers behind the new CD "The Greatest Showman: Reimagined." Benj and Justin, thank you so much.

PASEK: Thanks so much.

PAUL: Thanks for having us. Thank you.


ZAC BROWN BAND: (Singing) And from now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the light. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.