"Hugh Jackman in Performance" is full of Broadway tunes and charm, with a little dose of enthusiasm thrown in.
If the dayjob ever dries up, one movie star needn’t worry — there’s probably already a showroom in Las Vegas with Wolverine’s name on it. Working the audience like a family reunion, the headliner of “Hugh Jackman in Performance” is either the nicest guy in showbiz, or doing a bang-up impersonation of the same. So much charm can smooth over just about anything. Here, it has to: Without all that charisma one might notice this evening is one very odd grabbag of Broadway and Top 40 numbers, sung with unflagging enthusiasm but not much musical or dramatic personality.
The two-week San Francisco run — presumably assembled in a hurry when the actor’s next outing as the hairy “X-Men” superhero got pushed back — is a stand-alone gig sans announced transfer plans, though its commercial prospects are obvious. Should they be pursued, however, a director (none is credited), a writer and some songlist rethinking might want to enter the picture.
That picture is, admittedly, filled very handsomely by the strapping star, who after an overture by Patrick Vaccariello’s 16-piece orchestra (seated onstage on glittery black risers) enters singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” — a beautiful song calling for a beautiful voice. While Jackman’s tenor can hit big notes and pull off big finishes, it’s mostly a smallish, slightly nasal instrument that is competent rather than distinctive.
(When veteran soft-rock hitmaker Richard Marx joined him for a late duet on his “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting for You,” the evening had its first idiosyncratically individual vocal.)
What Jackman does have is catholic — if not always admirable — taste, utter confidence and compulsive connectivity with the audience, most of whom were there not so much to see a sometime musical theater star but a real live movie one. He clearly loves his public. They love him back, albeit less platonically. (“Forced” to change pants before us due to a seemingly unplanned seat-tear, he answered one shout-out with “I’m not taking my shirt off — there’s a seven-year-old girl in the front row!,” addressing the latter directly all night. That didn’t stop an older fan from throwing him not a bouquet but leather fetish handcuffs minutes later.)
Such love is blind, and it helped to at least squint a bit at some of the choices here. “Soliloquy” from “Carousel” was decent if cloudless, “Luck Be a Lady” swung 50s big-band style, “Fever” stuck close to Peggy Lee’s arrangement and “I Won’t Dance” was deployed as a passably amusing protest against his trainer’s (beefy Steve Lord as “Sven”) insistence he not slim down by exerting himself onstage while beefing up for Wolverine. A Peter Allen medley allowed him to camp around in “Boy From Oz” character, even if those songs now seem a tad schlocky.
But charm had to spread thick to cover the kitchen-sink lack of discrimination that paired Queen (“Crazy Little Thing Called Thing Called Love”) and Elvis (“A Little Less Conversation”) without nailing either, threw in bits of the Carpenters and K.C. and the Sunshine Band into Jerome Kern, and in a “Movie Medley” strung together ill-fitting parts from “As Time Goes By” to “Staying Alive” and a “Lion King” tune. Jackman isn’t goofing; he loves them all equally. Odder still was a sequence that, joined by two aboriginal digeridoo players and some outback travelogue footage, eventually turned into a very weird rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Sometimes charm — or even good intentions — isn’t enough.
Broadway babies Merle Dandridge and Angel Reda, who get one number (“Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent”) to themselves while Hugh changes garb, otherwise sing backup and shake booty. Their own garb should be changed — though no designer is credited, they’ve been dressed as if practicing another, yea older profession.