In The Music Man, now enjoying a starry revival at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, former conmen twosome Harold Hill and Marcellus Washburn reunite in River City, Iowa, for one last grift.
Meanwhile, stars Hugh Jackman and Shuler Hensley (who play Harold and Marcellus, respectively) are enjoying an even happier reunion, co-starring in a stage production together for the first time since playing Curly and Jud in The National Theatre’s 1999 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in London. The pair have been best buds since that show, which came before either had won a Tony Award, before they shared the screen in Van Helsing and The Greatest Showman, and before they both achieved worldwide acclaim.
“I can count on actually just one finger the amount of people who make me laugh until I cry at inappropriate moments,” said Jackman. “And it’s his middle finger, too,” added Hensley, dropping by Jackman’s dressing room, as he does frequently.
“I’ll give you a tip for anyone reading this if you’re at The Music Man,” Jackman continued. “If you see that first scene between Shuler and I, and I’m not looking at Shuler in the eyes at all, then you know I’m in danger of completely breaking. That’s my only defense. He’s got that wicked grin, and he never breaks. It’s really annoying. He knows he can do anything to me, and he’ll never break.”
For Hensley, the laughter is the point.
“I work with high school musical theatre kids in Georgia every year. I do it because it makes you remember what it was like when you felt like you could do anything and the sky is the limit for the theatre world and acting, and that’s honestly how I feel with Hugh. It’s like regressing to that point where you think it’s not a technique. It’s not a job. It’s just play—it’s fun! I think that’s always what we as journeymen actors try to recreate, those moments where it’s just fun.”
The playful camaraderie that Hensley and Jackman share adds a deeper dimension into the relationship between Harold and Marcellus in The Music Man, too.
“Harold is coming into this town and putting on this persona,” says Jackman. “My scenes with Marcellus are where you get to see the real guy. We probably only have four or five scenes together, but that’s where the audience gets to see the real person. Having an actor where I just feel that rapport immediately is such a bonus.”
But what’s the next pairing for this award-winning duo? Both say they want to stick to comedy, but Hensley has a more specific pitch.
“The Odd Couple—but reverse the roles.”