Best of 2014: How Hugh Jackman bounced his way through Tonys opening
After the all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of Neil Patrick Harris’ 2013 Tonys opening, Hugh Jackman went for something much more understated for his latest turn hosting the ceremony: Jackman, displaying impressive strength, bounced his way through the opening in an nod to Bobby Van’s “Take Me To Broadway” from 1953’s Small Town Girl. Here’s how it came together.
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As told by: Choreographer Warren Carlyle
Hugh and I had been researching numbers. We were looking at classic stuff and There’s this amazing clip on YouTube of Bobby Van “Take Me to Broadway” from Small Town Girl in 1953. It just appeared to me, and I think to Hugh too. Hugh is a very joyous, exuberant performer and the joy of this bouncing, the joy of Bobby Van bouncing through the neighborhood, seemed to be a really fun idea. Then Glenn Weiss, the director, took it one step further and said what if we do it all in one shot? What if we never cut? What if we got a steadicam and did it all in one take? I think what Glenn did with it was actually really really dynamic and crazy and the kind of challenge that Hugh loves. He loves the physical challenge. Every day he trained to be able to jump for four minutes.
In one of the shots backstage we had a giant monitor that was playing that clip as Hugh bounced by. For me that was enough of a reference. If people get it they get it, if they don’t then it’s just a weird and wonderful moment.
The challenge was actually pacing it out. We constructed the music to follow the choreography. We knew there were sixteen steps for example, so we had to have sixteen counts of jumping music that took us down steps. All the music was written to the landscape of Radio City. Hugh and I were in Radio City kind of bouncing around, stepping it out before the music was constructed. I have this crazy video of Hugh and I late one night kind of bouncing down the aisle at Radio City to figure out how much music. That was the biggest challenge really was just the construction of the music. And Patrick Vaccariello did all of that.
Upstairs in the large rehearsal room in Radio City we had taped out on the floor the length of the aisle and we taped out the elevator and we taped out backstage so [Hugh] had a road map. We literally would just hop around in that rehearsal room upstairs.
We rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. I think we did it three times during the dress rehearsal. The steadicam guy Tore [Livia] was incredible, just did the whole thing walking backwards. That camera shot leads you down the stairs, so Tore is running backwards down the stair with the camera strapped to him. That was a real Herculean feat. My only true concern was the elevator, was the timing of the elevator, because it depends on someone pushing go and it depends on the elevator moving at exactly the right time. Both the giant elevator at Radio City, which took Hugh into the basement, and then the passenger elevator coming up. They were nervous making moments, but we had safeties written into the music. There were certain vamps or places that could go round and round if we got stuck.
We all sat down and considered the nature of the previous year’s opening and it was so giant and so successful. It was really magnificent. That was a magnificient opening sequence. All of us felt, led very much by Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner [of White Cherry Entertainment], we all felt that we just had to be smart about it and go a different way. It had to be smaller, it had to be more interesting.
I can’t really speak for Hugh, but I think he just wanted to have fun. Hugh loves to entertain. He loves a challenge and it seemed like a perfect fit. It was the kind of physical challenge that he just loves, and he got to tip his hat and say, hey, this thing’s really special. We’re going to celebrate that too and do something a little unusual this year. And for us it felt like all bets are off this is not your traditional opening number this is going to be something a little bit different. Whenever Hugh hosts it’s a little different. The fact that the opening number could take place in the aisle with the audience. He’s incredible with a live audience. It was really fun.