Review: Hugh Jackman sings, dances and charms, delivering a grand time at the Hollywood Bowl
Hugh Jackman, who had a packed Hollywood Bowl eating out of the palm of his hand this weekend, is the last of a dying breed: the all-round entertainer.
His wide-ranging skill set was on full display in the traveling extravaganza “Hugh Jackman. The Man. The Music. The Show.” He sang and danced with the indefatigable energy of someone trying to repay an audience debt he knows he’ll never make good on. He clowned around puckishly, amusing himself and all those who delight in his mischievous smile. And he glad-handed with the vivacity of a politician whose approval rating is off the charts.
Splashy entrances are a specialty. (He arrived onstage Friday looking like the fantasy groom on top of a wedding cake.) He knows how to punctuate a big number with an arm hoisted like a victory flag. Clothes seem honored to adorn his chiseled physique.
If I tell you he looked like a million bucks yet sounded at most like a few hundred thousand, I know you will forgive my candor because I, who have never seen an “X-Men” film and hardly qualify as a groupie, am here to testify that I had a grand time.
Jackman delivered. The outdoor arena, which had him gazing euphorically at picnicking fans against a hillside backdrop, is an ideal venue for an artist who, no matter how Vegas-ized his act, stays true to his Australian mate charm.
The joy Jackman takes in performing is infectious. At times onstage, he resembled a kid in a candy shop. He crooned, he belted, he camped it up. He released his tap-dancing inner child to the sounds of “42nd Street” and found catharsis in an all-out percussive frenzy to vintage rock hits. Was this swerve into “Stomp” territory one indulgence too many? As generous as he is with his talent, no one could begrudge him.
The evening began with a montage of movie clips. Jackman is one of the few showmen who, thanks to Hollywood, is also a global brand. Waggishly, he apologized to those nonexistent few who came out for Wolverine and discovered a musical theater fiend.
He opened, somewhat over-optimistically, with “The Greatest Show,” a song from the 2017 movie “The Greatest Showman,” in which he played P.T. Barnum. Nobody I know has seen the film, but many hardcore Jackman fans in the audience clearly had. The rousing nature of the admittedly obvious number turned us all into good sports, grateful to be together in the presence of this debonair deity, who was determined to make an already lovely summer night unforgettable.
Jackman wended his way through a selection of his musical roles, including Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast,” Valjean from the film version of “Les Misérables” and Billy Bigelow from “Carousel.” In general, the louder and busier the number, the better it came off. The vastness of the Bowl exposed a lack of vocal suppleness when there was nothing else competing for our attention but the nasally tone of his singing.
When he sat down at the piano for a meditative entry into “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen” (the score for which was written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the song-writing duo behind “The Greatest Showman”), Jackman’s voice seemed frayed. But the number was rescued by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
The music of this concert show lived up to the central billing of the title. But it’s the dynamic Jackman package that mattered most. “The Man” — the carefully curated persona of an action-hero star who’s really a song-and-dance bloke with a heart of gold and an all-encompassing seductive twinkle — was always the starting point.
A proud ally of the LGBTQ community, Jackman further showcased his commitment to equality in the “Nomad” section that stirringly brought to the stage indigenous Australian music artists. In these corrosive times, reconciliation through the arts was a heartening message, one that Jackman conveyed not through political grandstanding but simple, decent humanity.
When his patter wasn’t about showbiz, it was often about family. His wife was in the audience and he lavished so much love on her that he felt the need to apologize to the husbands in the audience for doubling their work tonight. He celebrated being 50 years old and grew misty recalling his spiritual wandering in the Australian outback. The sentimentalism was mitigated by regular doses of bawdy humor, the targets of which were no doubt the envy of quite a number of spectators of both sexes.
The show, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, included a full company of dancers and singers, backed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, which was conducted by musical director Patrick Vaccariello. The staging seemed a bit disorganized in the early going, though splashy video helped distract from the choreographic muddles.
Conceding the spotlight from time to time, Jackman let featured vocalist Jenna Lee-James shine in her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Misérables.” And special guest vocalist Keala Settle created a mini-earthquake of excitement delivering “This Is Me,” her YouTube-busting number from “The Greatest Showman.”
As a general rule, Jackman is better when in capering motion. His frolic as singer-songwriter Peter Allen, a taste of his Tony-winning performance from “The Boy From Oz,” lost steam during the wan run-through of hits Allen collaborated on, including “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “I Honestly Love You.”
The two sides of his performing identity — movie star and musical trouper — came together in a homage to movie musicals. Inspired by his memories of watching classics on the small screen, he was at his dashing best in a sequence that included such old songbook gems as “Luck Be a Lady,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
A performer of Jackman’s versatility runs the risk of being a jack of all theatrical trades, transcendent in none. But no one could leave “Hugh Jackman: The Man. The Music. The Show” feeling like they hadn’t been thoroughly entertained.
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