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The City Journals

Local talent contributes to Oscar-nominated “The Greatest Showman”

Loren at a Salt Lake screening of the Greatest Showman. (Photo courtesy Brady Allred)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Two performers with local ties are featured prominently in the hit film “The Greatest Showman.” Both Cottonwood High graduates, Will Swenson and Loren Allred honed their talents while growing up in the area.

“The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Michelle Williams, is a musical drama depicting the life of master showman P.T. Barnum. The film received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) for Jackman. For the song “This Is Me,” the film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for Best Original Song at the 90th Academy Awards.

In the opening scenes of the movie, Swenson portrays Philo Barnum, the tailor father who died while P.T. was quite young. “It was so much fun to see my long-time friend Will Swenson in this movie,” said CHS classmate Kim Stone.

Will grew up in the theater. His grandparents were Ruth and Nathan Hale, founders of Hale Center Theater. In the theater’s early years, most of the plays were written by the Hales themselves, and the Hale kids and grandkids played many of the parts. It was a family affair. 

During his three years at Cottonwood, Will had a leading role in the school musical every year: Billy Lawlor in “42nd Street,” Fred Graham in “Kiss Me Kate,” and Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” He performed in countless productions at Hale Theater as well.

Swenson’s friend and junior prom date Jennifer Westra Blackham notes, “I think for most kids ‘starring’ in their high school musical or community theater productions, we know this is a temporary thing, we aren’t planning on going on to Broadway. I can’t remember Will saying he had a Broadway dream, that he was going to pursue theater...but I also wasn’t very surprised when he did.”

After graduation, Swenson starred in local movie productions, notably “The Singles Ward” and “Sons of Provo.” He has since become a Broadway favorite, earning a Tony nomination for starring in “Hair,” and he is currently in “Waitress.” He is also the real-life husband of actress Audra McDonald.

Recalls Blackham, “I remember when the ‘Utah’ movies ‘The Singles Ward’ and ‘Sons of Provo’ came out. It was fun to say, ‘I know him!’ when seeing him on the big screen. It’s been fun to follow.”

Though former Murray Idol Loren Allred doesn’t appear on screen in the blockbuster movie “The Greatest Showman,” she can certainly be heard. Jenny Lind, the opera soprano that P.T. Barnum brought to the U.S. from Europe, is featured prominently in the movie. Actress Rebecca Ferguson plays Lind onscreen, but the producers opted to have the musically trained Allred perform the difficult soundtrack.

Born to vocal teachers Carol Ann and Brady Allred, who teach at the University of Utah with Brady also being the conductor of the Salt Lake Choral Artists, Allred seems to have singing in her genes. 

In 2008, Allred won the “Murray Idol” competition. Her winning performance of “Listen” from the “Dreamgirls” Broadway musical was the song she used for “American Idol” tryouts. While she only made it to the quarterfinals of “American Idol,” she took “The Voice” by storm, ending up as a finalist as part of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine’s team.

“For Loren, winning the Murray Idol competition was very impactful for her. She was invited to perform for the Mayor of Murray and invited to sing the National Anthem at Murray Park on July 4th,” said her father Brady.

While at Weber State University, Allred studied musical theater, and she went on to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. The song she sang in “The Greatest Showman,” “Never Enough,” has hit No. 1 on Spotify.

Allred has relocated to New York, where she continues to record. She will also perform at Lincoln Center later this year. 

Other local representation in “The Greatest Showman,” from the State of Utah can also boast of Keala Settle, who played the bearded lady, Lettie Lutz, and is a graduate of Southern Utah University.