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theatre review

Hugh Jackman on stage: endlessly entertaining, endearingly heartfelt Add to ...

He sang. He danced. He joked around. He had razor-sharp claws that sprang from his knuckles.

Okay, strike that last bit. Hugh Jackman certainly talked about Wolverine during his musical stage show Hugh Jackman in Concert; indeed, he told the crowd that he wouldn’t have done the thing had there not been a delay in the production of the next Wolverine film. But at no point did he play a superhero – unless, of course, you count Peter Allen.

In addition to recapping his star turn in the Allen-based musical The Boy from Oz, Jackman ran through some of his favourite tunes from movie musicals, showed off his fancy footwork, adlibbed shamelessly, and teased the ladies by periodically unbuttoning his shirt. It all went down a treat with the fans, especially when he fingered the buttons.

In that sense, perhaps the weakest thing about Hugh Jackman in Concert is the title. Although it clearly isn’t a dramatic work (you’d need a plot for that), it isn’t really a concert, either. Hugh Jackman in Performance, the title used for the set of shows he did in San Francisco in May, comes a little closer, but to be honest, he’d be better off simply calling the thing Hugh Jackman!, because that’s mainly what we get during the roughly 90-minute revue.

After all, he wasn’t just the star of the show, but it’s subject as well. He offered bits of his biography, provided clips from his movies (this during a rendition of the Nat King Cole oldie L-O-V-E), and introduced us to his wife, who was in the audience, and son, who was in the show.

It was endlessly entertaining, and often quite moving. After a tale about inviting his father to fly in from Sydney, Australia, to watch him perform a concert production of Carousel at Carnegie Hall, Jackman sang Soliloquy, Billy Bigelow’s big number from the show.

But Jackman didn’t sing the song so much as act it, using each note to let us see more of Bigelow’s character as he sorted through his emotions upon learning that he was to become a father. Although Jackman’s voice is certainly strong enough to meet the musical demands of the piece (he ended with a nicely muscular high note), what made the song work was the theatre of the piece, and the way it tied into Jackman’s story of his own dad’s parental pride.

Other, less obviously dramatic numbers weren’t quite so successful. When he turned to the Willie John chestnut Fever, done Peggy Lee-style with just bass and drums, he admitted to the crowd, “I’ve always been a little hazy on the lyrics.” He was also hazy on the key, and spent most of the song an interval or two lower than where the melody is pitched.

Not that anyone cared, because midway through the song Jackman turned an interaction with an audience member — a suit-wearing businessman named John — into an elaborate prank that had John on stage with the backup singers, and the audience in stitches. It was musical comedy in the real-life sense.

It also served to underscore just how much of himself Jackman has invested in this production. Hugh Jackman in Concert doesn’t feel like a career move – it feels like fun, the work of a talented performer unexpectedly given the chance to do what he loves just for the hell of it. But where another star might have let that opportunity sour into a statement of ego, Jackman lets the audience share in his passion and his fun. It’s hard to imagine him ever having a better role.

Hugh Jackman in Concert

At the Princess of Wales Theatre

in Toronto on Tuesday

Reviewed by J.D. Considine

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