Seventy-six trombones heralded the COVID-delayed revival of “The Music Man,” and the return of one of the biggest names on Broadway: Hugh Jackman, finally beginning a run that was supposed to have ended a year ago.
Full houses, fully-vaccinated and masked, welcomed him with showstopping ovations. “What better job to have in the world than to allow people to come and just put your troubles aside for a second and let’s go on a little adventure?” Jackman said.
Set in a little Iowa town with no taste for adventure, “The Music Man” is one of Broadway’s most enduring hits.
“Sunday Morning” host Jane Pauley asked Jackman, “Your first stage experience was…?”
“‘The Music Man’!” he replied. “I auditioned, and I did that whole salesman thing.”
This is the “salesman thing,” from the 1962 film:
Jackman said, “Can you imagine their faces as me turning up to do my audition? I did the entire thing. It was, ‘Ever met a fellow by the name of Hill? Hill? Hill? Hill? Hill? Hill? Hill? Hill???’ Just ridiculous!”
“How many other fellas auditioning did all eight parts?” asked Pauley.
A go-getter since 14, and no newcomer to Broadway. Eighteen years ago, he won a Tony for his portrayal of flamboyant fellow Australian Peter Allen: “There’s a scene with my boyfriend, and we kiss in the scene. And someone had clearly come who was an ‘X-Men’ fan. And as we kiss, I hear this: ‘Don’t do it, Wolverine! No!’ And I just had to turn and I said, ‘I’m sorry, dude. I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry,'” he laughed.
Most people know Jackman as Wolverine in the “X-Men” movie franchise. But just when it was tempting to think maybe he really did have some superpowers, not long after leading lady Sutton Foster tested positive for COVID, on Tuesday, the Music Man tested positive, too:
Ironically, the word “positive” virtually defines Hugh Jackman.
Pauley said, “You’ve got a little Professor Hill in you, a little bit?”
“Yeah, probably,” he laughed. “Little of a cockeyed optimist. Yeah, I am. I am an optimist.”
In the show, so-called “Professor” Harold Hill is a huckster: “Harold Hill loves danger,” said Jackman. “He gets off that train because they’re talking about, ‘There’s no way he could do what he does in this town. No, no, not in Iowa. They’ll see through him. They’re too tough for him.’ And that’s when he goes, ‘Oh, gentlemen, you intrigue me!’ He’s like, All right, and now I’ve got a challenge.”
And so does he. At 53, he’s taken on a part so physically challenging, he’s lost ten pounds since the start of rehearsals. It’s easy to see why …
Jackman didn’t come from a show business family. His parents, Christopher and Grace, emigrated from England to Australia in the 1960s. But nine years later, his mother went back – alone – leaving five children, Hugh the youngest.
“From the age of eight, my father brought me and my siblings up. If I think to what those ten years must have been like…”
“Yeah. And my older sister was 15, 16. So, five kids in that, and working full-time and cooking and cleaning and all of that. It was extraordinary.”
Today, Jackman has a close relationship with his mother, but he had an even closer one with his father, whom he lost to Alzheimer’s in September.
“It’s just the first time I’ve talked about it, so it’s a bit hard,” Jackman said. “But when I went to see him in June, he would smile, and he was there. And he would connect. But in many ways, he was gone as well.”
Look for scars from his childhood trauma – and you’ll find a chronically “nice” guy. “I think, for me, my default was, ‘Yeah.’ A little. ‘yeah, sure, uh-huh.'”
“And why do you think that was?”
“I think – I know, actually – that that was my way of finding security. What do I need to do in this situation to make everything okay, make sure everything’s fine and no one’s arguing? Where does that come from? It must come from years before. Family stuff. And so, I found a way of not really being a bother. Don’t worry about me. I’ll fit in. I can fit in. And that was, that became habitual.”
And it nearly derailed a brilliant career: “I really loved dance. It was great fun. And so, I told my Dad. I said, ‘Dad, can I get dance lessons?’ My brother overheard, and he’s like, ‘Yeah. You sissy. You sissy. Sissy. Sissy.’ Like, for days.”
He didn’t take those dance lessons, until eight years later: “I’ll never forget it. My brother said,
‘I said something to you really stupid years ago. And I’m really sorry I said that because I think you belong up on that stage.’ I said, ‘What?’ And he goes, ‘I said something really stupid about dancing.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I do miss dancing.’
“And I signed up for a tap-dancing lesson the next day.”
After Broadway shut down in March of 2020, Jackman kept working with choreographer Warren Carlyle to stay on his toes.
Invited to join Jackman on the dance floor, Pauley professed, “I do not have dancing feet.” But as they say in Australia, give it a go.
Pauley asked, “Aren’t you aware of your knees?”
“I am clearly when I’m learning. My head gets caught up in here, so when you’re going, it just means you’re getting caught up in your head.”
“OK, now when I’m following you around and I’m looking at Hugh Jackman, I am not thinking about my wonky knees.”
“There it is! You know what the key was then?”
“Hugh Jackman?” she offered.
“You’re not measuring – no. It’s just that your attention is outside yourself. So, that’s the key … and the more you can get out of your head and have something to do – on stage, for me, it’s about connection with that audience, connection with my other actors.”
“You’re a very good teacher. Now here I am, I’m dancing rings around Hugh Jackman!”
Now, this is dancing …
And later this week, with Sutton Foster and company, Hugh Jackman, the Music Man, will take a bow once again.
Pauley asked, “What’s a standing ovation mean to you?”
“To me, it is, kind of, a confirmation of the very best of why we do what we do,” he replied. “It’s like something’s happened and afterwards, you go and hug each other, ’cause you don’t know what else to say. That’s what it feels like to me.”
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Hugh Jackman on being embarrassed in front of Al Pacino (YouTube Video)
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Story produced by Kay Lim and Julie Kracov. Editor: Lauren Barnello.