Hugh Jackman is back doing what he does best in his latest big Hollywood film Prisoners, which isn’t released here in the UK until 27th September 2013, but has been well received by US cinema-goers after already raking in $21.4 million (to date). The 44 year old Australian actor is one of the hottest commodities around – and not just because of that chiselled physique. He recently came in at No. 3 on the 2013 Forbes list of Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actors, largely due in part to his work in the X-Men films. Jackman played the regenerative, clawed mutant Wolverine in the original 2000 X-Men film, reprising the role for the subsequent sequels X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, as well as making a brief cameo in the prequel X-Men: First Class. He has also starred in two spin-off films which feature solely on his popular character, the latter of which, The Wolverine, was only released in July 2013. Plans are also in the works for another follow-up X-Men film, titled X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The Wolverine is not the only role that has been responsible for turning Jackman into a worldwide phenomenon of the acting world. Films such as Australia, Van Helsing, Real Steel and Deception have all helped cement him as a Hollywood leading man and an award-winning actor, not to mention the 2012 big-screen adaption of classic musical Les Miserables. Jackman’s portrayal of ex-convict Jean Valjean, a man pursuing an honest life while on the run from the unrelenting Inspector Javert, was acclaimed by fans and critics alike. Playing the lead role in a musical naturally called for Jackman to sing for the majority of the film, which may have come as a surprise for some of his fans, who were unaware of his extensive background in theatre. Jackman’s stage career, which began with roles in such shows as Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard in Melbourne, brought him to the West End for an Olivier Award nominated performance in Oklahoma! and has seen him tread the boards of Broadway in The Boy From Oz, for which he won multiple awards, including a Tony, for ‘Outstanding Actor in a Musical’. He has hosted the Tony Awards on several occasions now, and even created his own critically acclaimed one-man show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway.
He recently spoke out to say that he is planning to bring the show to London for a short run if he can find a two-to-four week spot in which to do so, a move which is sure to make many of his UK fans very happy indeed. He’s not leaving out the Broadway community however, as his comments came amidst talk of a future project which would see Jackman return to the stage in the US too.
Jackman is spearheading a new musical based on the life and death of ‘America’s ‘greatest showman’ Harry Houdini, the Hungarian escapologist/illusionist who became famous for such stunts as The Mirror’s ‘Handcuff’ challenge, the Milk Can, the Chinese Water Torture Cell and his Buried Alive escape act. The show is being written by renowned composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin), who recently revealed that he is specifically writing for Jackman in the score, in terms of: “what I think will sound good in his voice and what sort of things will really help him to do the things that he does,” (Broadway.com). Director Jack O’Brien had nothing but praise for some of the numbers Schwartz has written for Jackman, describing two of the ballads as, “among the greatest things he’s ever written,” and going on to say that, “Hugh just kills with them. It’s vintage Schwartz, it’s gorgeous.”
Houdini is produced by Scott Sanders and David Rockwell, the latter of which will also be designing the sets for the musical. When speaking to Baz Bamigboye of The Daily Mail about Back To Broadway, Jackman revealed that a third work shop is planned for Houdini and that it’s hoped the musical will make it to Broadway “within a year or 18 months.”
The idea of a show inspired by Houdini has not only occurred to Schwartz. In 2011, West End star Hadley Fraser spoke to me about his involvement with a conceived musical about Houdini, for which he would be moving away from performance to write the book for the musical instead. Conceived by magician Jamie Allan – who was also to act as magic consultant on the show – and featuring the music of composer Simon Wheeler, the musical made it to an early work shop production which starred Ramin Karimloo in the title role. Karimloo has since turned down further commitment to the show to time constraints however, and despite an original hope for an autumn 2012 run, it seems Houdini won’t be hitting the stage any time soon. A play based on the relationship between Houdini and his brother Theodore embarked on a UK tour this month though. Stuart Brennan, who won a BAFTA for his role in the film Risen, wrote the play and also stars as younger brother Theo opposite Jamie Nichols (Harry Houdini) and former Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch as Harry’s wife, Bess. The magical showman as also provided as inspiration for numerous other theatrical productions, such as Death and Harry Houdini and Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini.
The Broadway musical of Houdini still has a way to go before theatre audiences can sit down to enjoy what is sure to be yet another outstanding performance from Hugh Jackman and the remainder of the as-yet unnamed cast. He may be a hugely successful film star, but Jackman has himself admitted in the past that he’s happiest when on stage and I’m sure he is looking forward to returning to it for Houdini – I don’t think anyone’s more excited to see him work his magic than his future audiences though.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 24th September 2013