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Backstage with Ron Onesti: Oh THATS’s Hugh Jackman

Ron Onesti: Oh, THAT’s Hugh Jackman

This lockdown has REALLY allowed me to catch up on some of my favorite movies.  A favorite I share with my daughter is the 2017 film about show biz visionary P.T. Barnum entitled, “The Greatest Showman”.  It stars Hugh Jackman as the famous 19th Century entrepreneur who ultimately created a circus that thrilled millions for over one hundred years.  He is credited with actually starting “Show Business”, and is one of my five all-time heroes.

I have worked with Hugh Jackman before, and I must tell you, he is as wonderful as he is talented.  But I really didn’t know who he was when I first met him.  Here is what happened:

I would like to think that after twenty-five plus years in entertainment, I am pretty well versed on the “who’s who” of the biz.  I would also like to think that I am hip enough to know who is hot today.  After all, I could tell the difference between a Katy Perry song and a Rhianna song on the radio (at least after being educated by my thirteen-year-old daughter I could).

So when Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter and fellow Chicagoan Richard Marx told me he was adding a special guest to his lineup of friends performing with him at our Arcada Theatre, I was pretty pumped.  He was shooting his “PBS Rocks” television special by us, something exciting in and of itself.  “Man, wait ‘til you hear who I’ve got coming, this guy is going to put this show over the top,” Richard told me.

The television show, and subsequent two-disc DVD, “Richard Marx: A Night Out With Friends” was Richard on stage performing with a few close industry pals, including Broadway performer (another Chicago native) Sara Niemietz, lead singer of the rock group Vertical Horizon and close Marx buddy Matt Scannell, and boy band ‘N Sync superstar J.C. Chasez.

“Ok, Ron, are you ready for this?” he asked.  “Lay it on me, brother,” I responded.  “I’ve got Hugh Jackman coming!”  “Whoa!” I said.  “That’s incredible!  This is going to be big!”

“Who is Hugh Jackman?” I thought after I hung up.  “He’s probably a one-hit-wonder pop singer from the eighties.”  I was about to do what anyone does in this situation nowadays…Google him.  I got back on a call and forgot about it.

As we got close to the show day, I was beginning to get calls from private security firms asking if we needed bodyguard services for this show.  “I don’t think so, Richard has played here before, he’s pretty cool with the fans,” was my repeated response.  “You must be going crazy with Hugh Jackman coming,” the person on the other end of the phone said.  “Uh…yeah,” I would say.  “I gotta Google this guy!” I said to myself again.

So the day of the show comes, it’s a sellout!  The TV trucks are in place, stage is set, and crazed fans are all over the place.  As I mentioned, Richard has played here before, and his fans are usually pretty mellow.  Quite a few of these fans, however, were different.  Many were dressed in warrior-type costumes, toting comic books and DVD cases.  “Now this is odd,” I thought.

We have a long hallway as you enter the theatre that was on lock-down on that day.  It was a secure area because of the TV production stuff.  I noticed this really tall guy dancing alone in the hall.  He was doing “Chorus-Line” kicks.  “Whatcha up to?” I asked.  “I’m getting ready for a Broadway show,” he said.  “Are you Hugh?”  I asked.  “Yes I am, pleased to meet you,” he said with an extended hand.  “I am looking forward hearing you tonight, you have always been one of my favorites,” I said.  I wanted to make him feel welcome, he seemed like such a nice guy.

So I went backstage and Richard was “educating” one of the TV guys.   “You’ve got to be kidding,” Richard was saying to him.  “You don’t know who Hugh Jackman is?  He is only a major movie star, Wolverine in the X-Men films series, the star of the movie “Kate & Leopold”, Oscar nominated for “Les Misérables”, a Golden Globe Award winner, Tony winning Broadway star, Grammy winner, “People” magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” and even hosted the Academy Awards.

“You didn’t know that?” I chimed in.  “Do you believe this guy, Richard?”  And he is in show business!” I said.

Man, I wished I Googled this guy.