“If I don’t do that she’ll start heckling,” Jackman joked as the audience of theater owners melted.
Jackman, a modern-day reincarnation of Howard Keel, brought some much need star power to an event that tends to be heavy on rumpled studio and exhibition executives. With his mega-watt smile and broad-shouldered strut, he prowled the stage, charming and selling his passion project. There’s a reason that “The Greatest Showman” required Jackman putting his clout behind the project. The musical story of P.T. Barnum, a circus impresario, is a risky proposition in an age of superhero films and franchise fare. Musicals can be hit or miss at the box office, but “The Greatest Showman” does have an ace up its sleeve — songs and music from Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, the team behind the Oscar-winning “La La Land” and the Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen.” Jackman said the film took seven years to bring to the screen, but in an era of Netflix and YouTube, he argued big swings are the way to keep the movie business competitive with digital diversions.
“This movie is about taking risks…and that is what is going to propel this business,” said Jackman.
Jackman said the film “is a fantastical rags to riches tale” and a celebration of “creativity and what is unique about each and every one of us.” Its central premise is that Barnum, a 19th century entrepreneur, ushered in a new era of modern showmanship.
The preview delivered the goods, highlighting singing bearded ladies, Zendaya doing calisthenics on a trapeze, Michelle Williams ballroom dancing across the New York City rooftops, and Zac Efron tapping on the counter of a bar.
Jackman kept the crowd of theater owners in the palm of his hand, telling self-deprecating stories about meeting Clint Eastwood for the first time, and offering up odes to cinema.
“There’s not one person in this room who didn’t love movies more than anything else and wish that one day they could be in this business,” he said.
CinemaCon is an annual love fest between studios and exhibitors unfolding this week in Las Vegas. It’s a chance for Hollywood to unveil its slate of blockbuster hopefuls. “The Greatest Showman” closed out a Fox presentation that also featured footage from the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” Ridley Scott’s creepy “Alien: Covenant,” and Kenneth Branagh’s star-stuffed “Murder on the Orient Express,” which offers up Johnny Depp and Judi Dench as potential killers. Branagh also sports an epic handlebar mustache.
It was a truly musical presentation, one that ended with audience members (presumably Fox employees) singing and dancing through the aisles, and kicked off with domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson donning a tuxedo and top hat, complete with flashing lights, as the newest member of dance crew iLuminate.
Jackman said that despite producing “The Greatest Showman,” he had to audition for the lead role.
“I was only up against one person,” said Jackman. “Chris [Aronson] I got the role. I won the role fair and square.”