My last blog was on dying. This one is on living.
Back in October, “Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway” opened for a limited ten-week run at the Broadhurst Theatre. Before becoming a film star as Wolverine in the “X-Men” movie franchise, Jackman got his start singing and dancing in musicals like “Oklahoma.” He won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a musical portraying singer-songwriter Peter Allen in “The Boy from Oz.”
When I found out Jackman was returning to Broadway for a one-man show, I had to get tickets. Jackman, you see, is my wife’s favorite actor, bar none. Seeing him live would be her dream come true. So my anniversary gift to her was two tickets in the third row, center stage.
More than one male friend told me I had guts putting my wife that close to Jackman. TheNew York Times theater critic called Jackman “a master of mass flirtation” and Peoplemagazine named him Sexiest Man Alive. Meantime, my wife agrees with People and wouldn’t mind if he flirted with her.
But a dear lady friend who has been happily married for over thirty years loved my idea and called me a wise husband. I’m not. More like a guy who knows his shortcomings and appreciates his wife’s patience. Besides, marriage is a long haul with ups and downs, good days and bad days. When opportunities for a banner day come, I try to grab them.
The show was the day after Thanksgiving. Jackman didn’t disappoint. Backed by an 18-piece orchestra and assisted by five “Dream Girl” dancers, he sang Rodgers and Hammerstein classics; danced like Fred Astaire; did a rousing rendition of Sinatra numbers; and indeed flirted with the audience every tap-dancing step of the way.
Afterward, we made a contribution to Broadway Cares, a nonprofit. I did it because Jackman invited donors backstage to meet him and take photos. While waiting with a few other donors for Jackman to shower and change, my wife wondered what she should say to him.
“I think you should ask him for a kiss,” I said.
Well, she did.
“I think that can be arranged,” Jackman said, smiling before giving her a peck on the cheek. He was a down to earth, perfect gentleman.
Lydia with Hugh Jackman on stage at the Broadhurst Theatre
Around 11 p.m. we left the theatre district, got take-out, and sat outside on Sixth Avenue, not far from a guy playing “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” on his trumpet. The streets were still bustling. Holiday lights were up. “This is one of the most fun nights of our marriage,” my wife commented.
The next day we were planning to shop and see friends in the city. Then we had a crazy thought: Should we go see the show again?
Of course, we didn’t have tickets and the show was sold out. We visited our hotel concierge, Kevin from Brooklyn. He called a ticket broker and found two seats, fifteen rows back.
My wife whispered in my ear: “What about the front row?”
I turned to Kevin. “Anything in the front row?”
He winced and called his broker again. Long pause. “She can getcha two in the front row, center stage. But I’m tellin ya, it’s gonna be steep.”
“How much?” I asked.
He put his hand over the receiver. “It’s way too much. I wouldn’t recommend it.”
He wrote the number on a piece of paper.
We looked at it. Kev was right. It would be totally irresponsible to pay that kind of money.
“Probably shouldn’t do it, right?” my wife said to me.
“Probably not,” I told her.
“What should I tell the broker?” Kevin asked.
“Tell her we’ll take ‘em,” I said.
Kevin nearly dropped the phone. My wife clapped. And I figured I’m going to have to do some extra writing over the next couple months.
This was actually an easy call. We ignored conventional wisdom and went on instinct. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book on this, called Blink. It explains the importance of the first two seconds in the decision-making process. That’s especially true when once-in-a-lifetime opportunities come along. If you over analyze them, you often make the wrong choice.
Besides, you can’t put a price tag on certain experiences, especially in a marriage. The second night was even better. We were close enough for Jackman to touch us. He did, too, slapping our hands and saying hello and welcoming the two of us back at the start of his performance. The women behind us were convinced we knew Jackman personally. Suddenly I had lady friends. It was a riot.
Then came the moment. Act II opens with Jackman playing songwriter Peter Allen, who died of AIDS in 1992. We knew from the night before that Jackman would randomly select a man from the audience to flirt with while he performs “Not the Boy Next Door.” Since I was the only man in the front row, guess whom he chose?
With the spotlight on me, Jackman swayed his hips and hit on me. I glanced at his dream girls and turned up my hands, as if to say: “Aren’t you going to help me out?”
“They can’t help you,” Jackman said.
The audience laughed. So did I. So did Jackman. My wife loved it.
Fast forward to the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I was in Connecticut preparing for my grandfather’s funeral. His death got me thinking about life and how quickly it passes.
Then, as I was putting the final touches on my grandfather’s eulogy, I got an email from my wife. The subject line read: “It’s not too late ….”
Intrigue is oxygen to a marriage. I opened the email. “There are still a couple seats left on the aisle of Row A of the Broadhurst …What do you say? Want to meet me there on Sunday afternoon for the final show? I could take the train …”
I didn’t blink. “Get the tickets.”
Home in Virginia with our kids, my wife bought the tickets from a broker and made arrangements for us to pick them up in Times Square. Then she found an overnight sitter for the kids, packed an overnight bag, and dashed off to the Amtrak station in Charlottesville. I scrambled to find us a hotel room in the New York on New Year’s Eve.
I delivered my grandfather’s eulogy in Connecticut on the morning of Dec. 31st. I knew it was going to be a good day when I walked into the funeral home and The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” was playing. My grandfather would have loved that. After the burial, I embarked on one of the most exhilarating drives of my life. When my wife emerged from the train station, I nearly knocked down three cab drivers to get to her. New Year’s Eve was a blast. And as we sat in the theater on New Year’s Day watching Jackman’s last show, I imagined when the end arrives for me. I don’t want to say: “I wish that I had ….”
Hugh Jackman entering the theatre for his final performance