Early in a recent performance of Hugh Jackman's one-man show, an elderly woman in the center of the front row caught his eye.
That wasn't hard to do since she was wearing a leopard-print dress, oversized tinted glasses and a jacket made of high-sparkle sequins.
"Wow, you are sparkly," he told her.
So, it turned out, is Jackman, a fact that becomes clearly evident by the end of his two-hour solo show "Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway," which opened Thursday at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Backed by an 18-piece orchestra and six leggy dancers in short, glittery dresses, Jackman belts out about two dozen musical theater songs, pausing only to offer up video montages of his films and stories of his life.
He does this while wearing a winning smile, a nice suit and an open collared-shirt, a look his orchestra mimics. He's a consummate professional, able to win the audience over with a twinkle and a nod. ("Mezzanine!" he'll scream and those people, so often forgotten up there, eat it up.)
The show is sometimes cheesy and rather too night-clubby and dangerously veers toward self-indulgent, but it's hard to be nasty about Jackman, a relentlessly cheerful Australian who seems well aware that he lacks any noticeable edge. The razor-sharp claws he wears as "The X-Men" character Wolverine are long gone. Without gimmicks, he's just handsome and confident and very sparkly — and he's fine with that.
The show features his interpretations of songs ranging from the sexy R&B tune "Fever" to "Rock Island" from "The Music Man" to a medley of classic movie songs such as "Singin' in the Rain" and "Luck Be a Lady." He tap dances, does high kicks, hits a few notes on the piano, glides about the stage and does the two-step with the pretty young women in short dresses. Warren Carlyle, the director and choreographer, has wisely gotten out of Jackman's way after realizing that this guy can do it all.
Some of the highlights include a vocal workout doing the eight-minute "Soliloquy" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel," and a collection of songs from his Tony Award-winning turn in "The Boy From Oz" while wearing Peter Allen-inspired matching gold lame pants and jacket, and gold shoes.
"You got nothing on me, sweetie," he told the woman in the sequin jacket, while himself looking like an escaped diva from "Priscilla Queen of the Desert."
The woman then surrendered her loud jacket to Jackman, who put it on, thereby doubling his level of sheer fabulousness. A few beats later, he pulls a beefy member of his stage crew on stage and drapes the woman's jacket on him to peals of laughter.
Jackman makes fun of himself — he jokes about his terrible film "Van Helsing" — as well as the NBA lockout, Donald Trump, Michelle Bachman and Kim Kardashian's short marriage, but shows his best skills as an improvisational comic, riffing off the audience or fellow performers. He pulls people out of the seats to join him on stage and then leaves them up there to dance while he sits in their seat.
He's a gentleman who also knows not everyone wants the spotlight. While hunting for potential victims, he spies a man cowering in his seat. "You're desperate for me to move on, aren't you?" he says.
Thing take a more serious note toward the end when he speaks of his native land and two didgeridoo players, Paul Boon and Nathan Mundraby, as well as vocalists Olive Knight and Clifton Bieundurry walk up on stage to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in Walmajarri, their traditional language. It's a little jolting after "Steppin' Out With My Baby," but Jackman makes sure it doesn't become exploitative.
There's something here for everyone, turning Jackman into a bit of cypher. Women love him, so do men. He's a family man and a naughty husband. He's a movie star and a Broadway baby. He's Gene Kelly and Peter Allen and Wolverine. He's a fellow New Yorker and a kindred spirit of the Aboriginal people. His motto is, "Have a go, mate."
His voice is like the show — strong and sweet, but not terribly enlightening. His song interpretations are decidedly run-of-the-mill, straight down the middle, but nice. He works hard, stripping off his suit coat and then rolling up his sleeves, sweat stains visible. By the end, he's thanking his orchestra, high-fiving members of the audience and getting a standing ovation.
And he still sparkles.
Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine of the “X-Men” franchise, turns out to have real-life superpowers: In “Back on Broadway,” which opened last night, he turns his entire audience into a bunch of 12-year-olds at a Justin Bieber concert.
No matter your age, gender or sexual orientation, the Australian star will melt you into a puddle of blissed-out goo. It’s called mega-wattage charisma, and they don’t teach it in school.
Watching him run through some of his favorite numbers, backed by an 18-piece orchestra and six chorus girls, you realize how impressive Jackman’s feat is -- because if you take them apart, the parts are less than the whole.
As a singer, he’s good but not fantastic. When he dances, he won’t make you forget Astaire or Kelly. And when he acts, it’s usually his chest that makes the biggest impression.
But something magical happens when he does all three: Suddenly a charming, spirited, skillful, loving showman is sweeping us off our feet. And he knows exactly how to calibrate his revue’s two main food groups: beefcake and cheese.
Those who’ve seen Jackman host the Tonys or headline “The Boy From Oz” know he’s an accomplished song-and-dance man. Here, he breathlessly and seamlessly goes from a declaration of love to the Big Apple (Cole Porter’s “I Happen To Like New York”) to the dramatic “Soliloquy” from “Carousel.” A medley of songs from Hollywood musicals leads to a poignant guest turn by Aboriginal performers.
How he manages to segue from that somber moment into the upbeat finale is no less than masterful.
The show, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, is held together by Jackman’s likable personality: Interacting with the audience, he seems like the boy next door. Except, of course, he isn’t.
Rather, he belongs to a rarefied group from another time, when magnetic triple threats roamed the earth. For those of us who missed Sammy Davis Jr. in the Rat Pack years or Liza Minnelli at her “Liza With a Z” peak, watching Jackman bite into his numbers with gleeful gusto is a thrill.
Nitpick, if you must, about recycling bits from “The Boy From Oz” or the “I Won’t Dance” medley from the 2005 Tonys. Chances are you’re also having too much fun to make a fuss about it.
There’s a new king on Broadway. Long live His Royal Hughness!
Hugh Jackman practices safe sex like nobody else. His sweet-and-hot new show “Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway,” which opened on Thursday night at the Broadhurst Theater, is a great, guilt-free platonic one-night stand. O.K., so maybe the guy tends to run on about himself (his dreams, his job, his family, you know the drill) and cracks a few too many hokey jokes.
But when he gets down to business, this dream date delivers. And even when he’s grinding his hips before front-row patrons at eye level, you know that with Mr. Jackman there’ll be no morning-after regrets or feelings of sleaziness. He is, in his gold lamé way, as perfect a gentleman as anyone your grandmother swooned over at the Roxy. You half expect him to send you (and everyone else in the theater) flowers the next day.
The impossibly talented, impossibly energetic Mr. Jackman is a glorious dinosaur among live entertainers of the 21st century: an honest-to-gosh old-fashioned matinee idol who connects to his audiences without a hint of contempt for them or for himself. A movie star with a major action franchise (as Wolverine in the “X-Men” series), Mr. Jackman says he’s happiest as a song-and-dance man, the kind who conducts mass flirtation with a wink, a wriggle, a firmly handled melody and maybe a cane and some tap shoes.
This hot-ticket concert, previously seen in San Francisco and Toronto, has had writers comparing Mr. Jackman to fabled entertainers like Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra (in his pre-chairman-of-the-board days). If Mr. Jackman isn’t in that league (and I wouldn’t dare try convincing the audiences at the Broadhurst that he isn’t), it’s only because he’s too nice, too sane.
There’s never that lurid, dangerous threat in the air that he might just fall apart (as there was with Garland) or turn nasty (as with Sinatra and the rawer rock ‘n’ roll idols of the last third of the 20th century). On the other hand, you never think that he’s some synthetic, airbrushed illusion — like many of the stadium-playing chart toppers of today — held together by smoke, mirrors and synthesizers.
No, Mr. Jackman is palpably present and in his own skin. You feel you could reach out and touch him, and you may well have occasion to as he works the aisles of the Broadhurst, where his show runs through Jan. 1. That’s what he’s there for: to connect, to love and to be loved. And he makes it clear from his first entrance — striding across the stage, hitching up his pants over his lean hips and raising his eyebrows companionably as a fan emits a passionate squeal — that he’d be oh so easy to love.
That’s love in a major key. Mr. Jackman sings the occasional ballad, but he’s more in his element in sunlight than in shadows. Born in Sydney, he makes much of being a game-for-anything Aussie, always up for a drink, an adventure, a good time. This is not to suggest that there’s anything remotely slapdash about his performance in this show, which is directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Mr. Jackman dances with a Rockette’s precision and makes sure that his lyrics (sung with a hint of an outback twang) land with clarity and meaning.
Of course those moves and words wouldn’t count for nearly as much if Mr. Jackman didn’t inflect them with infectious affection for what he’s doing. He is as much of a classic musical-comedy nerd as any character on “Glee” and a lot more authentic.
He establishes his Broadway bona fides in his opening number. His voice, a capella, precedes him onstage, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” from “Oklahoma!,” the show that established Mr. Jackman as a musical star to reckon with when he appeared in it 13 years ago at the National Theater in London. And he concludes the first act with a beguilingly sincere version of Billy Bigelow’s “Soliloquy,” from another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “Carousel.”
In between he croons, belts, twirls and shimmies through several high-powered medleys — tributes to New York City and the irrepressible urge to dance (in which “I Won’t Dance” segues into “gotta dance!”). He has smooth assistance from a terrific onstage orchestra (with musical direction by Patrick Vaccariello) and a comely sextet of dancing backup singers. The second act finds him blissfully reincarnating a man who has become an alter ego for him (and the opposite of the manly mutant Wolverine).
That’s the pansexual, endlessly insinuating Peter Allen, whom Mr. Jackman portrayed to Tony-winning perfection in the 2003 bio-musical “The Boy From Oz.” (Channeling Allen provides the chance for Mr. Jackman to get as close to down and dirty as he allows himself in this show.) There is also a sprightly homage to the Hollywood movie musicals Mr. Jackman says he watched on television on Sunday afternoons in his boyhood (after finishing rugby practice, mind you) and an earnest novelty rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” performed by Mr. Jackman and aboriginal musicians from Australia.
The topical jokes and misty reminiscences that mark time between musical numbers are standard issue at best. And you should know that there are (oh dear) perky video montage sequences. (Mr. Jackman as a lad, Mr. Jackman with his son, Mr. Jackman in various movies.)
I usually wince when performers truck out self-celebrating scrapbook stuff. But Mr. Jackman presents this material with a deflating air of not humility exactly or self-mockery, but rather an ingratiating sense of how absurd, silly and wonderful it is to be a real-live star who can make grown women (and men) tremble just by smiling.
For that’s what this show is all about, finally: the erotically charged, two-way relationship between a star and his fans. The Playbill for “Back on Broadway” makes it clear that sex is what this production is selling. It shows Mr. Jackman looking surly with a two-day stubble and a large-headed microphone rising straight up his chest.
The Hugh Jackman that awaits you inside is friendlier than that, not to mention clean-shaven. And I promise you he won’t do anything untoward with his microphone. All he asks is that you love him loving you loving him. And it’s pretty close to impossible to deny him that.
The title, "Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway," is precise but a little misleading. When Jackman was here the first time, he was an Australian action movie-star hunk who made a smashing Broadway debut -- and won the 2004 Tony -- singing and dancing and channeling gay icon Peter Allen in the otherwise mediocre "The Boy from Oz."
In contrast, his new 10-week engagement, already setting box-office and ticket-price records at the Broadhurst Theatre, is a nightclub act. The singular gotta-dance Hollywood superstar -- on hiatus before bulking up for another Wolverine movie -- works the room with easygoing charm, high-voltage charisma and, after a bit of a strained start Tuesday, blithe showmanship.
He seems to be a genuinely nice guy. He calls us the "best audience in the world." He asks "are there any Aussies here?" and brings one onstage to dance with the cheesecake sextet he almost paternally calls his girls. He gets adoring audiences to sing along with the impressive 18-member orchestra. He shows us a montage of his movie highlights, lovingly presents some haunting musicians from the Outback and, having changed from black pants and jacket to the gold lame outfit he wore as Peter Allen, sits in the lap of a woman in a box seat.
"Oh, gosh, I'm getting hot!" he says, inquiring whether we, too, are getting hot before grinding his hips to the bumps in "Fever."
As Jackman obviously knows, he enjoys a rare crossover appeal to middle-age women, gay men and the action-flick fans. And enjoy it, he does.
The two-hour show, directed by Warren Carlyle with no credited writer, begins with "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' " from the "Oklahoma!" that made Jackman's London reputation but came here without him. He doesn't mention his stage career back home in -- picture this -- "Sunset Boulevard" and "Beauty and the Beast." But he does tell us how, after rugby practice, young Hugh would soak up classic movie musicals.
It is this section that shows off his terrific dancing, his crazy-feet tapping, his ability to hover in the air and devour the expanse of the stage with dazzling insouciance. His tangy -- if occasionally pitch-wobbly -- voice can linger a bit monotonously in heady nasality these days.But when the nightclub routines stop and he sings a ravishing "Soliloquy" from "Carousel," he reminds us of the theater artist we really want back.
Before we see the titular superstar in Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway (*** out of four), we hear him. He is singing the first bars of Oh What a Beautiful Morning, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that introduces us to Curly, the cowboy lead in Oklahoma!
Jackman played that role on the London stage in 1998, two years before a very different action hero, Wolverine, made him a film idol across the Atlantic. The pre-X-Men reference underscores a central aim of this new show: to reaffirm that musical theater is Jackman's home, and his enduring passion.
Not that Back on Broadway, which opened Thursday at the Broadhurst Theatre, is exactly a musical. It's more a concert or a song-and-dance extravaganza. Backed by an 18-piece orchestra and embellished by six leggy ladies, Jackman shares memories, makes self-effacing jokes and ad-libs with audience members. Structurally, Back on Broadway's closest antecedent is Liza's at the Palace …, the 2008 Liza Minnelli vehicle.
Jackman and Minnelli are very different personalities, of course — though there are parallels. Technically, Jackman could not be called a great singer. His voice is best in its robust upper register; below that, it has the nasality and choppy vibrato often associated with show tunes by folks who don't much care for them.
But like Minnelli, Jackman knows his audience and manages a symbiotic relationship with fans. At a recent preview, he coaxed a fellow Aussie up on stage and teased him good-naturedly before sidling up to his wife for a cozy chat. Later, for a medley of tunes by Peter Allen— whom Jackman played in his Tony-winning Broadway debut in 2003's The Boy From Oz— he gamely donned a gold-lamé disco outfit and bumped and grinded to the obvious delight of both women and men.
It helps that Jackman is a master of what might be called nice-guy charisma. Even at his slickest, the performer is palpably, irresistibly a mensch. Whether describing a youth spent playing rugby and watching Hollywood musicals or recalling the night that Steven Spielberg phoned to ask him to host the Oscars, Jackman exudes the kind of earthy charm that can't be manufactured.
There are endearing twists, as well — an aboriginal-themed Over the Rainbow, a reworking of a rhythmic spoken-word sequence from The Music Man as a campy hip-hop number. If Jackman knows how to please a crowd, he can also take it in unexpected directions, with seductive enthusiasm.
It's noted in Back on Broadway that Jackman will soon make his first screen musical: an adaptation of Les Misérables. The merits of that show could be debated, but Broadway could hardly have a more likable movie-star ambassador.