Mouse House to develop theatrical tuners for Jackman

Disney has made a nonexclusive deal to develop multiple theatrical tuners for Hugh Jackman to produce and topline.

Jackman has formed a company with new partner John Palermo, and they will be joined in the venture by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who exec produced the feature version of “Chicago” and are producing “Hairspray.” The quartet will produce each film.

Deal came after Disney toppers Dick Cook and Nina Jacobson saw Jackman in “The Boy From Oz,” a Tony-winning turn that made him the first male star courted for musicals since John Travolta followed up “Saturday Night Fever” with “Grease.” But the studio’s aspirations for the deal hark back to the days of Jackman’s idol, Gene Kelly.

Speaking from the set of the Darren Aronofsky-directed “The Fountain,” Jackman was cautious about creating such expectations. Musicals got a new lease on life because of the commercial and critical success of “Chicago.” But it remains to be seen how current release “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera” and upcoming tuners “Rent,” “Hairspray” and “The Producers” will fare.

Jackman said he is just glad he’ll be involved in crafting whatever musical he adds to that mix.

“I’m lucky that at the time my career in movies was building, the movie musicals genre that had been in the desert for 20 years started to come back,” said Jackman.

Tuner’s tough

“As an art form, the musical is Mount Everest. Tough to pull off, but exhilarating and timeless when it works. And when it is done badly, it stinks to high heaven,” he said.

Jackman bided his time after showing off his singing and dancing skills for a year in “Oz.” He turned down numerous roles and studio overtures.

But he was eager to form a production company with Palermo, whom he met when the latter was Bryan Singer’s assistant on “X-Men.” And they sparked to Disney because Jacobson and Cook gave them the latitude to hatch several vehicles and provided Zadan and Meron as tuner-tested guides.

“Dick and Nina were keen on letting us take our time on multiple projects, and lean on Neil and Craig,” Jackman said. “This is an art form that has not been widely practiced, with difficult steps, from music to book to choreography. (Zadan and Meron) have developed a technique.”

Jacobson was one of the first execs Jackman met when the Aussie arrived in Hollywood. She said she didn’t fully appreciate his gifts until she and Cook saw him on Broadway.

“I went to see ‘The Boy From Oz’ because Hugh was the only person I knew personally who could sing and dance, and I left thinking, How can we not try to find movies that capture these singing and dancing abilities and that charisma?” Jacobson said. “Dick and I are very gonzo about this. We are hoping writers and directors will come forward with ideas.”

Appealing to all

“Hugh’s got qualities that men identify with, that women find sexy and kids find entertaining,” Palermo said.

Jackman would seem a good candidate to broaden the audience appeal of tuners. He is most readily identifiable to moviegoers for the “X-Men” character Wolverine and the vampire hunter Van Helsing.

He’ll continue on the action track: Jackman and Palermo will cut their teeth as producers by getting involved in the third installment of “X-Men,” as well as a “Wolverine” spinoff feature “Troy” scribe David Benioff is penning at Fox.

Venture will be overseen by Disney execs Karen Glass and Doug Shore, along with Travis Knox, who heads up features for Zadan/Meron Prods.

Jackman said Disney will develop as many as three projects at the same time. That may include a remake, though he hopes not.

“There might be a classic out there that can be redone and find an audience,” Jackman said, “but I am personally more interested in finding something new.”

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