Listen: Laura Bennett chats to Keala Settle about her role in ‘The Greatest Showman’.
When The Greatest Showman hit cinemas over Christmas, musical lovers were thrilled to see Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron of High School Musical Fame, returning to musical theatre on the screen—but it’s Hawaiian-born Keala Settle who really stole the show.
Playing the ‘Bearded Lady’ Lettie Lutz, Settle’s big number This is Me has gone viral with its message of bold self-confidence and value for humanity. In a behind-the-scenes presentation to studio bosses, that’s now spread the world on Facebook, Keala performs the song in all its raw glory.
Leaning in to the lyrics and grabbing an emotional Hugh Jackman’s hand, she nervously lets herself go and uses her powerful voice to bring her character to life.
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“The problem with that song is, it was too close to who I really am” says Keala. “So when I was first given that song, I fought tooth and nail to not sing it. When we were in rehearsals for what ended up being the final presentation, Hugh said to me ‘I’ve already sung it in Melbourne, you’ve got to sing it because this is the song in the film’…and I said ‘Ok, I really don’t want to do it but I’ll do it’, and ended up have to [get] my way through it. I was petrified.”
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Hearing Keala’s show-stopping voice, it’s hard to imagine that she could be nervous, especially as the eldest of five in a musical family shaped by her mother’s Kiwi heritage:
“[Singing] is a cultural thing. It’s what we do; it’s how we tell stories… growing up I didn’t know where I fit it because I was an interracial child, so I turned to music… and it stuck with me. And the way I sing, only because I don’t know any other way, is from the heart.”
With the success of The Greatest Showman, Settle has decided to share more of her voice and passion for music with her debut EP, Chapter One, including tracks that journal her life up to now, and her hesitation to be in the spotlight:
“I’ve just always thought there are other people that can do that, and be that person, and be that voice,” Keala said. “I’m just a regular ‘Joe-Schmo’, [but] I’m slowly realising just how human and connected we all are in our individuality and our differences.”
One song on the EP that’s particularly close to Settle, is The Rose:
“It’s a favourite of my mother’s… and there’s a segment in there where you actually talk about when you’ve been so alone, and you’re so desperate you think nothings ever going to happen, and you get through that moment and the next day the light comes. Songs like that have helped me in my life get through my own journey to this point.”
Catch Keala in The Greatest Showman, and Chapter One is out on iTunes now.