Heeeeee's back, as advertised on the Broadhurst marquee — Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway. He's up and at 'em, up from Down Under, up close and personal.
It's this personal dimension that's most striking about the show he opened here Nov. 10 — a biography that jumps and gyrates all over the stage — and will continue to do so until Jan. 1, 2012. There may be 1,185 people sitting around you, but he gives the distinct impression of speaking only to you in a nest of eavesdroppers. He forces you to share because he shares, and who wants to be a Hugh hoarder?
This is pretty much by design, he told select press (three print, five television) when he joined them on stage after he had taken a shower and a breather. Looking relaxed like he was having a typical day in Dogpatch, he explained, "The hardest thing is what not to sing because, when you have a choice of doing whatever you want, there are so many things. For me, it was about it being personal so every song relates to something personal to me. I just want to share that and have a great time with the audience. I was inspired by a great Sinatra concert where he was with his family and friends and very loose. That's the kind of atmosphere I want to create."
Only friends seemed to have applied, in droves, helping the show earn over a million every week since he started previews. It has taken him only eight years, two Broadway shows and a few Tony-hosting gigs for him to reach Beloved level, but he's there, and his fans have been sure to follow as faithfully as day into night.
Why not open the show with the Oklahoma! opener, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," and why not close his first act with Carousel's, "Soliloquy," Billy Bigelow's first stirrings of paternity? The first he did at the National in London; the second, one night only at Carnegie Hall — both Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, duly noted by Mary Rodgers Guettel. ("You think I didn't notice that?" she beamed on her way out of the theatre.)
In between, he passed — with high-flying colors! — "auditions" for other roles that he could convincingly be doing on Broadway: Guys and Dolls' Sky Masterson (in a cocked fedora, doing "Luck Be a Lady"), The Threepenny Opera's Macheath (swaggering out "Mack the Knife" with maximum cool) and his first high-school role, The Music Man's Harold Hill. For that, he reprised the "Rock Island" opening number that won him the part at age 14 when he played simultaneously all eight salesmen mimicking the sounds of a train in motion. He was asked after the show if one of the above — or, indeed, any established show (he and Kristin Chenoweth recently did a much-buzzed-about workshop of On the Twentieth Century) — would be something he'd like to revive on Broadway, and he said there was one: "I'd love to do Carousel, if I'm not too old. Am I too old?" Not from where I stood, I told the 43-year-old Aussie.
"The next thing that I'll be doing here is an original, Houdini," he said. Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for "The Social Network," is hammering out a script, and Stephen Schwartz will have a hand in the score (which hand, Jackman didn't specify). Jack O'Brien and David Rockwell, the musical's director and set designer, were among the show's first-nighters, and they were repeaters, having caught it in an earlier reincarnation this year.
A natural cheerleader, O'Brien trilled, "I had a good time before. I love him. I know him well. I can't remember what gilt-edged means, but that's the evening."
Only now, after some 20 films in a dozen years, is Jackman getting around to his first movie musical — the longtime-in-coming film version of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's international smash, Les Miserables.
Jackman will be playing Jean Valjean to Russell Crowe's Javert in a starry cast that includes Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of "The King's Speech," expects to have the epic musical ready for release Dec. 7, 2012. "It's a dream to be in it," Jackman told reporters. "I chased it hard, and I'm thrilled to have gotten it, and I'm going to give it my best shot."
He announced the Les Miz news at the end of a delicious montage of movie musicals that allowed him to be both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. For the latter, he donned taps ("No Milli Vanilli tonight!") and went right into "Singin' in the Rain."
The 20th Century Fox logo and drumroll introduced the sequence — perhaps a bow to his publisher bud, Rupert Murdoch, whose wife, Wendi Deng, was in attendance with their children and admitting she was "very impressed" with the song Jackman sang — in Chinese! — in her movie, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan."
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