It was hot and steamy in San Francisco Wednesday. And the weather was nice, too. Hugh Jackman, that final Australian frontier of old-school razzle-dazzle entertainment, put on a show at the Curran Theatre.
And it’s about time. In the old days, Jackman would have starred in a weekly variety show on TV, had regular gigs at the Tropicana in Vegas and toured with his celebrity golf tournament.
These days, it’s much harder for an entertainer. Once you have your street cred and your bona fides – sci-fi/action movie star, romantic lead, beloved awards show host, Tony Award-winning Broadway star – you get license to do as you please.
So Jackman has his own show, courtesy of SHN, and it looks and sounds an awful lot like the shows of yore – and thank the heavens for that. There’s a 17-piece band on the bandstand (under the direction of Patrick Vaccariello, Jackman’s colleague from Broadway’s The Boy from Oz days) and elegant drapes framing the stage just like they used to do in Vegas (Broadway vet John Lee Beatty was the scenic consultant).
The lights (designed by Ken Billington) are a sharp combination of old-school flash and modern-day concert drama. There are two backup singers, Merle Dandridge and Angel Reda both Broadway performers, and a smattering of special guests (more on that later).
Most importantly, center stage, you have Hugh Jackman – handsome, charismatic and generous with both his energy and his talent. At Wednesday’s opening night, the more Jackman was himself, the more he shone. He dutifully followed the script that he and creative producer Warren Carlyle (who most recently directed the Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow), but every time he veered away, whether because of technical or costume difficulties, his wattage increased.
The first snafu occurred in Alexander V. Nichols’ projection design. A photo of nerdy Jackman at age 14 failed to materialize. Jackman actually seemed kind of grateful about that.
The second – and this was a doozy – came after Jackman had dutifully opened the show with “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from Oklahoma!, followed it with the disco strains of “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls and revived his “I Won’t Dance” reluctant dance routine from the 2005 Tony Awards (apparently movie execs get nervous when Wolverine does high kicks). See video below.
He was seriously getting his groove on as Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” turned into Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation.” He took off his suit jacket, and people in the audience squealed.
Little did they know they were about to get a whole lot more. Catching his breath after the number, Jackman laughed and said, “It must be opening night. I’ve just ripped a hole in my pants.” He turned around, and sure enough the whole back seam of his black pants was ripped open.
Just like he did with the projection bungle, Jackman played it suave and debonair. He had Nancy, his costume assistant, bring him another pair of pants and changed them in full view of the audience. For the record, he’s a boxer briefs guy, and there’s a block of fabric sewn on the tail of his shirt to make sure it stays tucked in while he dances.
“Now you’ll know all my secrets,” Jackman said. Not quite all.
The thing about Jackman is that he’s got a nice voice – it’s high and nasal and has the brightness of a trumpet. It doesn’t have a lot of dynamic variety in it, but he has solid money notes and incredible breath control. But it’s less about voice than it is about performance.
He can pull off a ballsy choice like the seven-minute “Soliloquy” from Carousel and make it seem as easy as a frothy disco number. Through it all he dazzles with the blinding light of his charm. And in my opinion, the funnier he is, the sexier he is.
The second half of the nearly two-hour concert (no intermission) featured an extended medley of Peter Allen songs from The Boy from Oz – “Not the Boy Next Door,” “Best That You Can Do,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady On Stage” and – best of all – “Tenterfield Saddler.” That last song, a touching story song about Allen’s grandfather, was performed with Jackman sitting on the edge of the stage, Garland-style, while guitarist John Joseph McGeehan strummed.
Even throw-away numbers like the movie songs medley or “L-O-V-E” accompanied by a montage of Jackman movie clips give Jackman a chance to reach back to variety show days and simply entertain for entertainment’s sake. He can be cheesy (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Really?) and he can be sassy (“Lady Marmalade”).
He interacts with the audience almost as well (and as often) as fellow Aussie Dame Edna and has a penchant for making fun of how older white guys dance.
The special guest section featured two didgeridoo players from Australia to kick off a film montage of Aboriginal and Australian landscape beauty, and that segued into Jackman singing the Israel Kamakawiwoʻole arrangement of “Over the Rainbow.” The number was also a plug for the Australian charity Nomad Two Worlds (www.nomadtwoworlds.com).
The next special guest was pop star Richard Marx, and, in between giggles and bromantic banter, sang a duet on Marx’s 1989 hit “Right Here Waiting.” Marx posted a video of the opening-night performance.
Getting back to his musical theater roots and demonstrating one last time that he’s a complete and utter musical theater geek (as if his recitation of the Music Man opening number wasn’t enough), Jackman closed with “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls and then offered a sincere Peter Allen closer, “Once Before I Go” as his final farewell.
Whether dodging leather handcuffs thrown on stage by a fan (“Tom Jones, eat your heart out!”) or toasting SHN co-founder Carole Shorenstein Hays and her purchase of the Curran (“Sorry, Carole, you were probably writing a press release or something. Oh, well. It’s already on Twitter.”), Jackman is a throwback. He’s an entertainer, a charmer, a vivid personality in a highly appealing package.
May he continue to bounce between stage and screen for a very long time. And if he somehow finds the time, maybe he could bring back the variety show.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hugh Jackman in Performance at the Curran Theatre continues through May 15 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40-$250. Call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com.