In The Greatest Showman, once P.T. Barnum opens his Barnum’s American Museum, renamed Barnum’s Circus, he fights an uphill battle to be seen as a legitimate entertainer and for his circus to be considered a valuable experience.
Among all of the storytelling mediums—from literature to film to television—theatre is still seen as niche, somehow less appealing to the masses. Kids who love theatre (both as depicted in movies like High School Musical or in upcoming television dramas like NBC’s Rise, and in real life) are often considered theatre “nerds.”
Tides seem to be turning with the advent of Hamilton, live television musical events, and streaming stage productions, which all render theatre more accessible. And while Playbill champions theatre in all its forms, we wanted to know from a man who transitions between musicals and Marvel, Broadway and big screen, what we can do to help more people nationwide see what we see and appreciate musical theatre.
“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me,” says Hugh Jackman in the interview during the press junket for The Greatest Showman. (Watch the full video above.)
Jackman plays Barnum in the original movie musical, in theatres December 20, and has starred as Jean Valjean in the film adaptation of Les Misérables, won a Tony for The Boy From Oz, hosted the Tonys four times, led romantic comedies, and is known around the globe as Wolverine in Marvel’s X-Men series.
Still, the versatile actor says it wasn’t always that way. Early in his career, he couldn’t get a movie audition because he was seen as a “musical theatre performer.”
“All I wanted to tell people is if you have any idea how hard it is to convey thought through song—because that’s what it is, instead of through talking. You’re conveying it through song, it’s not just a bunch of notes—it’s really really difficult to do,” says Jackman. Casting directors seem to be wising up.
And, Jackman has faith that movies like Greatest Showman will help get audiences on the musical bandwagon. “I think the more we do it well—you can watch Grease, which some people might not say is high art. You watch the way Travolta traverses from dialogue into song—it’s a master class. You watch Barbara Cook, you watch Kristin Chenoweth, you watch Jessie Mueller, there’s just so many people, Ben Platt. The more people who get to see really, really great performers, who are actors as well as singers, I think the more people will buy it.”
Watch the full video above to hear more about his early audition experience and why he believes The Greatest Showman is such an important film.
Plus, check out the bonus video below where Hugh admits he hated the sound of his own voice until The Greatest Showman.