THE LEADING MEN: Broadway Is a Dream Come True — Again — for Hugh Jackman

By Brandon Voss
31 Oct 2011

Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

A candid chat with Hugh Jackman about his Back on Broadway concert, plus cell phones, ticket prices, shirtlessness, show tunes, The Boy From Oz and more.

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Even "Saturday Night Live" has taken note of Hugh Jackman's extreme versatility: A recurring sketch jokes that Jackman is the world's most masculine and feminine man, but the reality is that his career has been remarkably diverse and universally appealing. Catapulted to international stardom as mutant superhero Wolverine in the "X-Men" franchise, the action star reconnected with his musical theatre roots and won a Tony Award for his 2003 Broadway debut as flamboyant entertainer Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. Also seen on Broadway opposite Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain, the native Australian has returned to the stage — still hot from the robot-boxing blockbuster "Real Steel" — to sing his favorite songs in his solo act Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway, which opens Nov. 10 and ends its limited run Jan. 1 at the Broadhurst Theatre. Before he's off again to shoot the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" sequel and play Jean Valjean in the film version of Les Misérables, the 43-year-old triple-threat and three-time Tony host talked to Playbill about his shamelessly self-indulgent homecoming.

A one-man musical spectacular is quite a leap from your most recent film, "Real Steel." How important is it for you to achieve that kind of balance in your career?
Honestly, it's basically been about avoiding unemployment. When I first graduated from drama school, my goal was to keep pushing open as many doors as possible, so that included all different types of film, musical theatre, and straight plays. I figured, well, I'm pretty good at quite a few things, so I'll keep on working at all of them. I also feel that it's good for actors to say "yes" and risk making fools out of themselves. Ultimately, that approach has been something that's defined me in this business.

Jackman in The Boy From Oz.
photo by Joan Marcus

Looking back, what impact did The Boy From Oz have on your career?
It was the turning point in my career, as far as I'm concerned. It's funny, because I was actually offered the role of Peter Allen back in 1996 when they did a workshop in Australia, but I turned it down — even though I knew it was going to be great — because I decided I was going to try to do more films. At that point I couldn't even get auditions for films because I was becoming so known for musicals, so I was trying to strategize. Then, after saying no to The Boy from Oz, I didn't work in film for the next two years. When I went to see the show I felt sick in the stomach, because it was exactly how I knew it would be: It was a brilliant show and one of the greatest parts I had ever seen, and I had turned it down because I was trying to plan things out. I got a call years later from Robert Fox, the producer, and he said, "Hey, Hugh, we were thinking —" I literally cut him off and said, "I'm in." I vowed never to disobey my heart again.



No more hesitations at that point?
A number of people thought I'd lost my mind and that it wasn't the smartest thing for me to do, but it was a no-brainer for me. I was so grateful to have a second chance at the role. We did not get great reviews when we opened, but I felt strongly about the show, I could feel we were connecting with the audience, and I knew the audience loved it. I carried with me the great feeling of knowing that, whatever happened with the show, I'd done the right thing. Then it turned around and became a big hit, I won the Tony Award, and it was probably the best year of my life. From that moment on, I've followed my gut.

After the success of The Boy From Oz, it's hard to believe that you haven't done another musical.
I'm also surprised it's been this long since I've done another musical. The Boy From Oz opened me up to a lot of film directors who saw me do that and nothing else, but I was also adamant about only doing a new musical after that. I'd only done revivals or taken over from someone who'd originated the part, so I wanted to be a part of something new. But as you and I know, that's difficult to find. Now, of course, I'm excited to be developing the musical Houdini, but this one-man show really came out of the frustration of not being able to find a new musical. I wanted to be back onstage and I couldn't wait any longer.

What appeals to you about the one-man show format?
When I go to the theatre, I love feeling like anything can happen, like it's a special night where things that happen won't happen any other night. So I like to mix it up, change songs around, go out in the audience, drag people up on stage, ad-lib, and just be loose. It's like we're in my living room, but there just happen to be 1,200 seats.

Sounds very Dame Edna.
Without the glasses and gladiolas. Hey, if I can be as quick and witty as Dame Edna, I'll take it.

One-man shows can also come off as self-indulgent.
Oh, the show's incredibly indulgent, which I love. It's like ultimate karaoke, except I have the best 18-piece orchestra doing every song that I love, and I don't give the mic to anybody else. It's very selfish.

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