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Does Hugh Jackman win battle of Barnums?

By newadmin / Published on Tuesday, 26 Dec 2017 06:45 AM / No Comments / 28 views


You know how it is, you wait years for a musical about entertainment impresario PT Barnum and then two turn up at once.

A new film about the infamous circus owner opens in cinemas on Boxing Day at the same time as a major theatre revival of Barnum the musical is playing in London.

On screen, Hollywood superstar Hugh Jackman stars alongside Zac Efrom in an all-singing, all-dancing original musical called The Greatest Showman.


Hugh Jackman

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On stage, comedian Marcus Brigstocke is taking on the iconic ringmaster role that Michael Crawford won plaudits for back in 1981.

But in the battle to play Barnum, who comes out on top? We compare the leading men’s vital statistics.

Hugh Jackman, 49, is an actor, Broadway star and film producer. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2013 for Les Miserables and has since appeared regularly in major feature films, most notably playing the long-running role of Wolverine in the X-Men film series.

Marcus Brigstocke, 44, is a stand-up comedian, writer and broadcaster. He was the BBC New Comedian of 1996 and has since appeared regularly on television and BBC Radio 4. His shows have included I’ve Never Seen Star Wars and The Brig Society

Marcus Brigstocke is playing PT Barnum in a London musical
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Marcus Brigstocke is playing PT Barnum in a London musical until March

So, why’s everyone talking about Barnum again?

Jackman: He’s the guy that invented showbusiness, a fascinating character. The kind of guy that when one circus ring wasn’t enough, decided to make it three rings. You get to go big, it’s about spectacle and showing things that had never been seen before at the time.

Brigstocke: I said to Hugh Jackman when he phoned me up, ‘You do your thing with it’, and he’s been very supportive in leaving me space to do my thing. It’s a tiny bit weird that Wolverine superstar Hugh Jackman is playing PT Barnum at the same time but The Greatest Showman – which I haven’t seen yet – is telling a very different story to the one that we’re telling.

Have you found joining the circus physically challenging?

Jackman: I love dancing, probably even more than singing, and for me this was a great opportunity, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to dance. Saying that, I actually wasn’t always thrilled. I’ve got 49-year-old legs that don’t want to bend as low or as often as I was made to do in this film.

Hugh Jackman stars in The Greatest Showman, which opens on Boxing Day
Image:
Hugh Jackman stars in The Greatest Showman, which opens on Boxing Day

Brigstocke: Wolverine and I discuss this all the time, it’s exhausting. It is thrilling, though, so you don’t notice you’re knackered until the end and then your bones turn to dust. I question whether I can pull this off every night and I genuinely have scars on my body to prove this. In the show I do a 10-metre tightrope crossing and being middle-aged, 6ft 2, slightly overweight, without good balance and with a damaged leg because I did The Jump on Channel 4, it turns out tightrope walking is really difficult.

The film sets the story to modern pop songs, the theatre show is a lot more traditional. Who’s got it right?

Jackman: We wanted to take bold choices by having original music. I think we had to have modern music because that’s what Barnum would have wanted. He wouldn’t want that creeky 1850s ‘oom pah pah’ music, he would want something that could play on the radio for everybody today.

Brigstocke: Ours is more traditional, yeah. Lots of the numbers that you think of and hear when you imagine a circus. It was written by Cy Coleman in the late 1970s and is a fabulous show, amazing music and a great story. How we’re doing it is really different because of where we’re staging this – it’s small, intimate and in a circus tent.

Marcus Brigstocke during rehearsals for the revival of Barnum the musical
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Marcus Brigstocke stars in the revival of Barnum the musical, which previously starred Michael Crawford in the early 1980s

Is quite a bit of artistic license required to tell PT Barnum’s story?

Jackman: We used about a third of the artistic license that Barnum used about his own life! He famously wrote three editions of his autobiography and by the time he wrote the second he’d burnt every copy of the first because he didn’t want anyone to realise what he’d written before. He’s a flawed character but he’s fascinating. He’s a disrupter, as we call it today, like a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Art was a pretty boring stuffy affair then and he said, ‘Can’t we just have some fun?’ He wanted to make money out of it.

Brigstocke: There’s no doubt at all he became very rich by producing and promoting other people and massively overstating what he could do… but the time was the time and as well as all that he campaigned against slavery, he campaigned for suffrage; the reason his American Museum burned down was because he was campaigning against slavery. I feel very warm towards him because I feel like what he offered, although it was hokum, was a vision of something very hopeful. I think what Barnum set out to do was to delight and improve and the fact that he bought hospitals, theatres and schools makes me feel very warm towards him.

How have you dealt with Barnum’s questionable record for mistreating the animals in his show?

Jackman: If we use animals they’re all CGI, we didn’t want to be part of something that was celebrating the use of animals in a way which rightly is not done anymore. We were very, very conscious from the beginning and we actually took quite costly and very deliberate choices to eliminate that.

Brigstocke: It’s hard for people to imagine, pre-telly, pre-cinema, the idea of a circus coming to town, Barnum was the one that did that. People may have seen a pencil drawing of an elephant but it would have been unimaginable to see a parade of 20 of them with acrobats performing handstands on their heads. Of course now animal rights activists would be horrified but at the time it was incredible. We have moved on from that time. I would like to think, given how socially aware he was then, that if he was alive now he wouldn’t be using animals because he wouldn’t think it was necessary.

The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman opens in cinemas on Boxing Day. Barnum starring Marcus Brigstocke is at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, until 3 March.

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