When you're seven years old, the world comes down to the most simple of needs. Food. Toys. The hope that one day you'll meet Hugh Jackman.
“Will I ever meet the Greatest Showman?” my daughter asked me recently while we cleaned up the kitchen. With the patience of a father keen to walk a line between amusement, wisdom and deep concern not to burst her bubble, I put down the dishcloth, dropped to her eye level and calmly told her what she needed to hear.
Well, as any seven-year-old fan of The Greatest Showman will tell you, never give up on the power of your imagination. Never let anyone tell you something isn't possible. And never listen to your father.
Because Hugh Jackman is coming to town.
Hugh Jackman is coming to lots of towns, as it happens. He's embarking on a world tour. The production goes by the earnest, almost parodic title "The Man. The Music. The Show." Jackman promises he'll sing, dance, tell stories. Keala Settle will blast out This Is Me. It could easily be the kind of news to make a cynic snort and a parent roll their eyes – a sort of Sing-a-Long experience crossed with Springsteen on Broadway and Frozen on Ice. An experience you hope the other parent will do escort duty for.
So, why did I immediately wonder about getting tickets? Not just for my daughter. For me?
Because somewhere in a Hollywood office, someone is tracing a messy chart of moviegoer demographics.
One line represents seven-year-olds who believe, as Jackman himself says, that only “your imagination is your limit”.
I have to believe another line represents middle-aged men who like a superhero film big on shish-kebabed baddies, midlife angst, and which inspires the false hope that they too can have rocking dad-abs like Jackman manages to have at the age of 50. Men who found something recognisable in Jackman's supposedly final turn as the now-exhausted, beaten-down, alcoholic superhero in Logan. Men who spend their time washing dishes while distracted by the question, "Will I ever meet Wolverine?"
Right where the two lines meet is Jackman. Top-hatted and smiling enthusiastically or vein-popping and growling ominously, depending on your preference.
He is currently playing fallen politician Gary Hart in The Front Runner, but its US box office performance has not been good, its reviews middling. It's a return to a certain equilibrium, perhaps, after the double whammy of Logan and The Greatest Showman – both released in 2017 – that gave him good reason to go on a world lap of honour of sorts.
From the opening frame he convinces us of the exhaustion weighing down every one of Wolverine's adamantium-coated bones
Logan rewards re-watching. (Not by seven-year-olds, of course. No matter how much they like superheroes.) It is Johnny Cash's Hurt if someone thought that video just needed a dash of head-skewering.
An expert conclusion of an often wonky, multi-movie character arc, Logan was largely loved by critics, who saw it as a watershed in a tired genre. It resonated with an audience who had matured with, and grown weary of, the tropes of the superhero movie. It brought Wolverine to a peak and walked away at the right time (hopefully). And it did it all with excellent, brutal action set-pieces.
Jackman is excellent as the declawed Wolverine, finding, in his ninth portrayal of the character, such new depth that it casts a retrospective shadow over the previous eight.
From the opening frame he convinces us of the exhaustion weighing down every one of Wolverine’s adamantium-coated bones. Is there any other example of a lead character’s movie-long struggle just to stay awake being so compelling?
It contrasted so much with the heel-clicking, cane-thumping enthusiasm of his PT Barnum in The Greatest Showman, which followed only a few months later. Enough has been written about that movie's critic-defying success. Suffice to say that, however flawed Jackman's "passion project" is, every line and scene, every hook and lyric is undeniably efficient in tapping into themes of empowerment, imagination, acceptance, never letting go of your dreams, and sticking it to snooty critics who will learn to lighten up by the end.
As happens whenever a musical seems to do something decent at the box office, there was a glut of pieces asking whether the public was looking for something upbeat in troubled times. As if times are ever anything but troubled. Or as if seven-year-olds care about such things. They care only about watching it again. And listening to the songs again. And singing them again. And again. And again. And . . .
You could equally argue that Logan was a success not just because of its fresh approach to the material but because it reflected our jaded, cynical times. And maybe Jackman did manage to hit on the greatest year in his career by fortuitously reflecting the mood from two separate angles. Song and dance. Anger and exhaustion.
Whatever the answer, Dublin’s 3Arena will get a night out of it next May. And the audience will not be narrowed to the two demographics, because Jackman now has an old-fashioned starriness that gives him a wide appeal. What’s more, that starriness looks a little brighter when so many others are tainted by scandal or collapse into weirdness.
But watch out in particular for kids and their dads at the show. And know there will be some who will tap along to songs, enjoy the mood and hope against hope that, at the climax of the closing number, Hugh Jackman will hold the high note, open his arms wide . . . and skewer a couple of dancers with his adamantium claws. Just for old time’s sake.
Hugh Jackman: The Man. The Music. The Show is at 3Arena on May 30th, 2019