Hugh Jackman already has big plans for next summer, but they don’t involve Wolverine claws, a movie script or even a camera. Instead, he’ll be singing on arena stages around the globe for The Man. The Music. The Show. World Tour — and Jackman may be the most excited he’s ever been.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’re working all next summer,’ And I’m like, ‘No!'” Jackman, 50, says. “It feels like if you’re into golf and get to play the best golf courses in the world the whole summer. It’s a complete indulgence.”
The tour will hit 12 cities in Europe and 22 in North America from May 13 through July 20, and Jackman promises no night will be the same. He’ll be accompanied by a live orchestra, performing hits from Broadway and film, including Les Misérables and, of course, last year’s smash hit The Greatest Showman.
Just after announcing the tour — and giving a little taste of what’s to come for his 2019 arena tour on the Today show — Jackman sat down with Billboard to discuss his plans, how The Greatest Showman influenced what’s in store and why performing is his first love.
Before The Greatest Showman, a lot of people didn’t realize you could sing. Did you see yourself as an actor or singer at the beginning of your career?
My first job in a musical was Beauty and the Beast. I played Gaston, I was 26, and in my contract, they were paying for me to have a singing lesson because I had never had a singing lesson in my life. I really learned singing on the job.
Having said that, I always thought of myself as an actor, but my breakthrough as an actor happened in the second year of a three-year acting course, and it was while I was singing a song. I was doing “Anthem” from Chess, and my acting teacher kept saying to me, “I feel like you’re standing outside your character, you’re just outside.” I didn’t really know what he meant. But as I started singing that song, it was through song that I understood acting. I really connected with the lyrics. That’s when I understood the power of it, and it’s been such an incredible journey. Oklahoma, Carousel, whatever it is that I’ve done — I’ve always felt connected to it as an actor but somehow felt free through the singing of it.
But then I’d get so frustrated, because I couldn’t get a film audition because people thought I was a performer. I was like, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to act through song?” That’s how I sing — I see it as acting through song. So this is an arena tour, but I actually see it as the theater. Theater is about connection. That’s the reason to do an arena show — something is going to happen tonight that only will happen tonight. And it’ll be different tomorrow night, and it was different last night.
How will this tour differ from your past tours?
I did a Broadway show [in 2011]. This is an evolution of that. I did three that year: San Fran, Toronto and then Broadway, and then I did an arena show in Australia three years later, which was an evolution of that — I probably kept half of it and put new stuff in.
I am going to do songs from Greatest Showman, I am going to do songs from Les Mis, I’m going to do songs I’ve never done, like from Dear Evan Hansen — I really want to do a song from that that I love. I’m going to do an homage to some of the great musicals. I’m going to dance like I’ve never danced before.
I heard about your intense dance training!
Literally, I’m never happier. Thanksgiving morning, it’s like 6:30 and I’m getting out of bed, and my wife says, “Just relax, you can take a day off.” And then she looks at me and goes, “Oh, this is not work for you, is it?” And I said, “Do you mind?” So I go up to my little room in Bridgehampton — no one’s awake, I’ve got my music in, and I’m dancing. I come back, I have breakfast with the kids, and I’m happy. It’s the best therapy.
How has being part of The Greatest Showman changed you as a performer?
I changed scene teachers for this, because Justin [Paul] and Benj [Pasek, who the music for the film] asked me to go to a different teacher [Liz Caplan, who has worked with Ben Platt and Neil Patrick Harris] who would help me transition away from the Broadway sound. I didn’t know I had a Broadway sound — I was like “Oh, is that what I was doing? Okay.” But they said, “You need a more poppy sound,” so I spent three years with her before we recorded.
That whole experience has opened things up for me in a way I never thought possible — to an audience of young people, in particular. I get stopped on the street for The Greatest Showman more than anything. I get videos every single day: “We did this at our school!” And I reply, “That’s so great!” And I’m sure they’re thinking, “We’re the only ones that did this, and you should really look!” I get like, 15 a day. But I love it, because it’s connected with people. In movies, you’re not there with an audience. You don’t know how it’s connecting.
I went to a spin class the other day, and they did the entire album of The Greatest Showman. I did not know it was going to be that, and I’m sure everyone was looking around going, “This guy’s really sad. He’s got to turn up to his own thing.” But then what was really embarrassing was how into it I got. I was like, “This music’s awesome! If you take away the fact that it’s me, I’m really getting into it!”
Don’t worry, I’m not playing my own movies on a loop on Saturday nights [Laughs].
Did Zendaya and Zac Efron help you with tapping into that pop sound at all?
Oh yeah, I learned a lot from them. Justin and Benj are very particular. Every time I tried to do a lick, they’d be like, “No.” I had to learn the lick that they would give me. “Rewrite the Stars” is a really great track. Both of them are fantastic in it. And when it came to Zendaya, she’s doing a lot of licks, and I was like, “You gave Zendaya a lot more licks than me!” and Justin goes, “I didn’t give her any of them, she did all that.” And I was like, “Oh she’s allowed to do the licks.” And he’s like, “Yeah, because they’re really good.”
I haven’t rung either of them yet, but they’re both on my list for special guests. I’d love them to come and do something, because they’re both so talented. I’m inviting people to every show. If you saw my list, it’s embarrassing. I fully expect to get turned down by a bunch of them, but I’m going to invite them anyway. It’s a real mixture of people.
I rang James Corden the other day, because we get on really well. I was like, “Dude, Hollywood Bowl? You and me? Couple of numbers?” And he just wrote, “Yes.”
Is there a song you’re particularly excited to sing?
“The Greatest Show” is the greatest opening to a show. The energy it gets with people — the party, the way that chorus opens up, it’s such a celebration. There was a period where it looked like our movie was not going to get greenlit, when most of the songs were written, and I remember thinking, “Well, at least I got a great opening to my show.”
I have a rule — if I hear the intro to a song and don’t get a tingle, then I take it out [of the set list]. For me it has to feel like, “I can’t wait to sing this song.” Because if I don’t feel that, how can the audience feel excited about it?
Very true. You’ve said this is a dream come true for you — why this one more so than your other tours?
Just hear those venues! Madison Square Garden, Hollywood Bowl. Going to other countries and doing this. It’s something I love to do, and I’ve been doing it for the last seven or eight years, and it’s my favorite thing. Of anything I do, [performing] is my favorite. I just love it.
So it sounds like if you had to choose between singing and acting, maybe you’d choose singing?
It still is acting to me. But, if I had to choose, probably stage. In all its forms. Arenas just being a big form of it. [Laughs] I still have no idea if we’re going to sell four or 400 tickets, so let’s just not count any chickens. If it’s not arenas [in the future], that’s okay. But if you told me I’d never get to perform live again, I’d be pretty upset.