There are several Hugh Jackmans. The most familiar perhaps is the X Man “Wolverine,” but that hairy ape has little to do with at least four other Jackmans on display in this event. There is the beautifully produced baritone, the one who can sing the leads in Kiss Me, Kate, Show Boat, Oklahoma! or just about any other musical play of near or far vintage. Then there’s the crooner — the Sinatra Jackman who can whisper in your ear and, man or woman, make you squirmy. And, of course, there’s the dancing Hugh Jackman, whose style is somewhere between Donald O’Connor, Dan Dailey and Tommy Tune. He’s loose, he can high kick with the best, he’s a tap dancer who is confident and joyous as he taps his troubles away.
There’s the MC-host, who can handle a crowd better than anyone since Bob Hope or Billy Crystal; hecklers don’t bother him, neither do flirts male or female, and just watch him work some tycoon from the bald headed row. Anyway, they are all on glorious display at the Broadhurst Theatre where for ten weeks only, there has got to be the most successful one-person show since Judy Garland knocked our socks off at the Palace.
It’s not exactly a one-person show in that there are six lovelies who pop out of the wings every now and then to surround him, support him, sing and dance with him. And in a very moving sequence involving aborigines from his native Australia, accompanied by some beautiful travelogue photographs, he eloquently displays aspects of his youth down under, by simply standing still and allowing three natives to introduce us to the didgeridoo, an extraordinarily long woodwind instrument, and to the lovely sounds of Olive Knight, whose debut solo album “Gospel Blues on the Edge of the Desert” is just out.
Jackman uses his audience, which is with him from the word go. The night I attended he was particularly lucky in inviting “Big Dick”, a retired executive from the Gillette Razor Company, to join him onstage. The gentleman took over completely, throwing himself into the spirit of the moment with great abandon. I was tempted to shout out: “Give him billing. He’s stealing the show!” but I’m glad I didn’t because it turned out that Dick was merely borrowing it for a few minutes. There really was never any question as to who was in charge.
The musical numbers are not listed in the program, but they are offered in various categories. We have a medley from Broadway musicals, we have a group from Peter Allen’s The Boy From Oz, in which Jackman triumphed on Broadway a couple of seasons back. For this section, he dons a suit that glitters with gold, which adds another persona to the five classified above.
I’ve never seen a performer (or a person for that matter) more comfortable in his own skin, more willing to parody himself, to let us in on the many sides of his highly original and likely self. His’ Soliloquy’ from Carousel raised the roof, but was matched by almost everything he offered. In one brilliant sequence, he played all eight salesmen in the opening scene of The Music Man, only one of which he played in his debut back in high school. Listening to this complicated rap during rehearsals and performance, he “learned all the parts”; indeed he did, and clearly he’s never forgotten them. A tour de force, but only one of many during this glorious evening of entertainment.
Seemingly tireless, he ended the show with a plea for contributions to the Broadway Cares – Equity Fights AIDS campaign, by auctioning off memorabilia from his show, and topping it all by putting two of his personal tee shirts on the block, the two he’d worn all evening. They brought $20,000, which gives you some idea of how the house felt about him by evening’s end.
If you want to give yourself a night to remember, get on the phone, or log on to one of the ticket websites, and treat yourself to the incredible achievement of a talent who must be seen to be believed. The use of him in films hasn’t yet begun to reveal the extent of his talent. He’ll make his screen debut as a musical leading man by playing Jean Valjean in the upcoming film version of the smash musical Les Miserables, but I urge you to make every effort to see him “up close and personal”. You’ll be telling your grandkids about it.
Hugh Jackman – Back on Broadway runs thru Jan 1, 2012 at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St, NYC.
Details and tickets