Hugh Jackman to Lead Broadway Revival of 'The Music Man' (Exclusive)

Music Man with Hugh Jackman inset - Getty-H 2019
Courtesy of DKC/O&M; James D. Morgan/Getty Images

One of the most bankable of contemporary stage stars, the Tony-, Grammy- and Emmy-winning actor will play Harold Hill in a major 2020 production of the 1957 Meredith Willson classic.

Get ready for 76 trombones and a box office stampede.

Hugh Jackman will take on his first Broadway musical role in 16 years when he heads the cast of a major 2020 revival of The Music Man, producer Scott Rudin confirmed Wednesday. Jackman teased the announcement Tuesday with a promotional image from the production on his Twitter feed, sparking wide speculation across theater sites.

The actor will play "Professor" Harold Hill, the charismatic con man who comes to the small Iowa town of River City posing as a boys’ marching band organizer and intends to abscond with the cash he collects for musical instruments and uniforms. Prim librarian Marian sees through his scam and plans to expose him, but romantic complications ensue.

"The first musical I was ever part of was the phenomenal The Music Man," said Jackman in a statement. "The year was 1983, and I was at Knox Grammar School in Sydney, Australia. I was one of the traveling salesmen, and I think I can actually (almost) remember that unforgettable opening number! That was probably the moment when the magic of theater was born in me."

"The idea of bringing The Music Man back to Broadway has been lurking in the back of my brain for a long time, maybe even for 35 years," continued Jackman. "When Scott Rudin called me with that very idea, I was floored. To finally be doing this is a huge thrill."

"There is just no way to accurately describe the level of excitement I feel about the opportunity to present Hugh in what I think is the best role ever written for an actor in all of Broadway musical theater," added Rudin.

Unique among 21st century marquee names in his ability to straddle big-screen action franchises and old-fashioned song-and-dance roles onstage, Jackman has proved himself to be among the most reliable guarantees of blockbuster ticket sales since his Tony-winning 2003 Broadway debut in the Peter Allen bio-musical, The Boy From Oz

The actor has appeared three times since on Broadway in limited engagements in the plays A Steady Rain (2009) and The River (2014) and the concert showcase Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway (2011), generating combined grosses of $83.4 million. 

With premium pricing having significantly pumped box office earning potential in the five years since the most recent of those productions, a Jackman-led revival of a canonical property like the 1957 Meredith Willson musical promises to be massive, particularly given that the actor has signed on for a full year.

A leading New York stage star who has been absent from Broadway for the last few years is believed to be on board to play Marian and will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

Adding further luster to the production is the reassembly of the core creative team from Rudin's lavish 2017 revival of Hello, Dolly! That smash hit starred Bette Midler and earned a whopping $128.2 million in New York, before heading out on a national tour that is proving popular across the country.

Director Jerry Zaks will again handle the reins, with Warren Carlyle on board as choreographer, Santo Loquasto designing sets and costumes, Natasha Katz on lighting, Scott Lehrer on sound and David Chase on dance arrangements. Joining the team will be distinguished music veterans Jonathan Tunick, doing orchestrations, and Patrick Vaccariello as music director, a role he filled on both The Boy From Oz and Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway

"These are great American works of art that deserve to be put on stage with as much love as you can give them," Rudin told The Hollywood Reporter. "What I learned on Dolly was that there is an enormous hunger for them from the theatergoing audience. But the hunger I think is to see these Golden Age musicals done in a Golden Age way."

"When you take on one of the 10 or so great, beloved titles, you're trying to do the urtext version of it," he continued. "That's what I think we did with Dolly and what we're going to do here. We're going to do it in a way that no one has ever seen it before. It's going to be big and beautiful and super-luxe and gorgeous and incredibly romantic, and very much in the world of why the show has lasted for 60 years."

Jackman's footprint in musicals goes far beyond his Broadway appearances. In his early career days in Australia, he starred on stage in Sunset Boulevard and Beauty and the Beast, before landing the part of Curly in an acclaimed 1998 National Theatre revival of Oklahoma! in London. He headlined a 2002 Carnegie Hall concert staging of Carousel, opposite Audra McDonald, and starred in the big-screen musicals Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman. He has hosted the Tony Awards four times, winning an Emmy in 2005 for one of those emcee turns.

In May this year, Jackman will kick off a world arena tour titled The Man. The Music. The Show., backed by a live orchestra and performing songs from across his career. On the big screen, he will next be seen in Bad Education, with Allison Janney and Ray Romano. 

Rudin said Jackman thought long and hard on the right musical-theater project to bring him back to Broadway, and the conversation that led to this project has been going on for about three years. 

The Music Man is often ranked among the greatest Broadway musicals of all time. In his first attempt to write for the stage, Willson penned the book, music and lyrics for the show, which was six years in development. It premiered on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre in 1957, winning six Tony Awards, including best musical, and running for more than three years.

"When we did Dolly, my desire was to put 1964 onstage," said Rudin. "That's what we want to do here. We want basically to put onstage an experience that is our version of what we believe people felt when they walked in to the Majestic to see The Music Man in 1957, which is that blow-the-roof-off-the-theater, blow-the-doors-off-their-hinges musical-theater hysteria that only a handful of shows have ever generated. That's the job."

Robert Preston originated the part of Harold Hill, starring opposite Barbara Cook, and went on to reprise the role in the 1962 movie version with Shirley Jones. Matthew Broderick played Hill in a 2003 TV remake, while other notable performers who have tackled the role on stage over the years include Forrest Tucker, Van Johnson, Bert Parks, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Gunton and, in the most recent Broadway revival that ran from April 2000 to Dec. 2001, Craig Bierko, Robert Sean Leonard and Eric McCormack.

Like Jackman, Rudin also has connections to the show that go way back. The Broadway premiere was a huge hit for influential producer Kermit Bloomgarden, in whose offices Rudin got his start in the theater business at age 14. 

"I was obsessed with The Music Man when I was a kid," said Rudin. "I would ask him endless questions about it and spend months and months poring through his files for every single document I could find that related to The Music Man. A ton of what I learned about being a producer I learned from Kermit, and in a way, for me personally, this is kind of a valentine to him."

The revival will begin previews Sept. 9, 2020, ahead of an Oct. 22 official opening at a Shubert theater to be announced, along with additional casting. Group ticket sales begin on June 9 this year, with single tickets available starting Sept. 15.