Hugh Jackman: Broadway to Oz review (Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne)

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When Steven Spielberg called Hugh Jackman to ask him to host the Oscars, the Australian song-and-dance man recounts in one of many breathless anecdotes in his new stage spectacular, he told the celebrated director “I’ll have a go”. He said the same thing when after nine months of auditions he was cast in the first X-Men film as the razor-clawed Wolverine, the role that would launch his Hollywood career and make him one of the most bankable movie stars on the planet.

“I’ll have a go” is Jackman’s mantra. It encapsulates a seemingly effortless career — and his seemingly effortless multi-threat talent — that is as impressive as it is unnerving. He can act, certainly, and sing, with the best of them, he can dance, tap and all. He can crack up 15,000 fans at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena — opening night in an apparently well-subscribed, five-city national tour — and charm one nanna on stage for some awkward pelvic thrusting in front of them all. His 25-strong, garishly costumed cast (including the fine voices of Gareth Keegan, Lara Seibert Young and Alinta Chidzey, among others) match his high kicking with Rockettes-like precision. His orchestra of 35 musicians (led by music supervisor Patrick Vaccariello) swells at every appropriate juncture.

And still something is missing. Under the lacquered hair, the stubbled, chiseled face, beyond the burnished brown eyes and cheeky grin of perfect choppers, you search for something just a little more mortal and come up empty. Beneath the muscle-hugging ruffled shirt, nary a sweat stain to be found, rhythmically beats the heart of a simple showman, blessed with talent and a starry international career, who loves to perform, who loves his family and loves his country. Anyone other than a Jackman super-fan may require a strong stomach for this.

Hugh Jackman: Broadway to Oz is part shimmering stadium spectacular, part kitschy RSL cabaret show, part family slide night, part patriotic Qantas commercial. You’ll hear movie medleys, music theatre memories and songbook standards. There’s plenty of Peter Allen, naturally, from the Broadway bio-show The Boy From Oz that won Jackman a Tony Award, and an arousing mega-mix from Les Misérables, the film version of which secured him an Academy Award nomination. Served with slices of Australiana sprinkled with enough red dirt to resemble Tourism Australia propaganda. (Allen — and Alan Joyce — would have to be pleased with Jackman’s rendition of I Still Call Australia Home, as the court-sized Aussie flag was draped across the hands of the audience.)

From the moment he’s literally catapulted on stage singing the opening number, Forever For You, the infectious energy doesn’t dissipate. Through I Won’t Dance, L-O-V-E (accompanied by clips from Jackman’s movie roles), Just The Way You Look Tonight (sung to doting wife Deborra-Lee Furness in the audience, the photo album flipping on the screen behind) and She Makes My Day, Jackman is the irrepressible crooner with restless legs and flawless delivery.

But not until Billy’s Soliloquy on impending fatherhood from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, preceded by a genuinely touching story from Jackman about the relationship with his dad, do we glimpse the storyteller, the performer who can really sell a song. He did it again in a piece from Les Mis, Jean Valjean’s life-turning Soliloquy. But those moments were few and far between.

Hugh Jackman Broadway to Oz photo credit James Morgan 3
Hugh Jackman in Broadway to Oz (Image: James Morgan)

Australia has been visited by the cream of Broadway in recent years, from Idina Menzel to Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters and, just this month, Audra McDonald. McDonald held audiences in the palm of her hand with more obscure material from the Broadway back-catalogue. Jackman has the ability to do the same — the Oscar recognition was no fluke — but he seems helplessly entranced by a style of bawdy pantomime from a bygone era.

Early in the show he asks if there are any Wolverine fans in the crowd. They erupt, of course, but looking around, the demographic looks decidedly older. “I hope you’re not only Wolverine fans because it’s going to be a long night,” Jackman gags, part of an avuncular schtick peppered with dad jokes. He needn’t worry. This show means a lot to Jackman, clearly, and nobody was going to tell a multimillion-dollar movie star he should do it any differently. The crowd, by and large, wouldn’t want him to.

A highlight of the second act is a number from the indigenous collective Nomad Two Worlds, an art project designed to forge reconciliation through culture — something Jackman has been personally involved in. The didjeridoo backing and spine-tingling vocals threaten to steal the spotlight entirely, before Our Hugh gracefully slips into a bewitching version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It’s all handled beautifully.

Otherwise, there’s little in Vaccariello’s musical interpretations that really excite. Or, for that matter, in the choreography by director Warren Carlye (a Tony winner and frequent Jackman collaborator), despite the talented cast at his disposal. Like Roger Kirk’s glittering costumes and Brian Thomson’s neon-framed set design — two giants of Australian stage craft — Jackman still shines. Iridescently.

If only there was a little less of the wise-cracking lounge singer and a little more of the movie star with emotional heft. Then you’d really have a show. Somewhere beneath all the razzle dazzle is a real artist.

Act one

Forever For You
I Won’t Dance
L-O-V-E
Just The Way You Look Tonight
She Makes My Day

Movie medley (Luck Be A Lady, Singin’ In The Rain, I Got Rhythm, Steppin’ Out With My Baby, Sing Sing Sing)
Soliloquy (Carousel)
This Is Me
Les Miserables medley (Soliloquy, I Dreamed A Dream, One Day More)

Act two

Not The Boy Next Door
Peter Allen medley (Best That You Can Do, Don’t Cry Out Loud, I Honestly Love You, Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage, Rio)
Tenterfield Saddler
I Happen To Like New York
On Broadway
I’ve Been Everywhere
Nomad Two Worlds – Inhibition
Nomad Two Worlds – Art Song
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
I Still Call Australia Home
Mack The Knife

Hugh Jackman: Broadway To Oz plays Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne until November 27. The show tours to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Images by James Morgan.

18 responses to “Hugh Jackman: Broadway to Oz review (Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne)

    1. Obviously not your type of music – unlike the 15,000 others that found him entertaining, charming, charismatic and oh so talented. What a brilliant and fun night out.

  1. please stop being negative this world needs more love and support you did not see the show so stop this non constractive non productive critics …..you can’t even see hugh jackman in your dreams …
    he is a great man supporting great cause give him love
    stop the hate ….

  2. I will have to say what i would say to my 7 years old kids …..
    if you don’t have anything nice to say please don’t say anything …..

  3. I get what he means, but this guy didn’t see the evolution of Hugh Jackman on stage for the 15 months of TBFO on Broadway. It was that “wise cracking lounge singer” persona that allowed him to leave character, “break the 4th wall”, connect with the audience and reveal himself in a personal way he never knew he could – all the while guised as Peter Allen. I don’t think you can one without the other in his case – the two personas are forever intertwined. He is one of a kind and every Aussie should be nothing but proud and glowing after this show.

    1. The Boy from Oz played only for about 12 months on Broadway including previews. Right from the start, he did receive glowing reviews when the show opened despite the very negative reactions to the show ( The Boy from Oz as a show was heavily panned by critics!). It was Hugh’s repositioning of the show ( he initially started the interactions in November…and that had blossomed into something everyone was looking forward to because of how deftly and charmingly he handled the rapport with his audience) which saved it from premature closing. By the time the Tonys rolled around, he was a shoo-in for the award. Even Broadway pundit Michael Riedel became a fan after initial cynical reactions! He became a great favorite on Broadway and to this day, his return to that stage has always been welcome!

      One thing though, to his credit, he has also delved into other absorbing material, with straight plays like A STEADY RAIN and the recent THE RIVER. Hugh Jackman is not just an irrepressible entertainer from musical theatre; he has shown his audience that his versatility has allowed him to show what a fine dramatic actor he can also be! Maybe someday, he will come back to the Australian stage with such dramatic portrayals, which resonate with his film portrayal in the Australian film Erskineville Kings.

  4. I think you missed the point of the whole show. It was never meant to be a Broadway retrospective ( which you implied on your comments about Audra’s choice of material). Hugh has always said that this show is meant to be the musical soundtrack of his life and career…and that he is sharing the highlights of its musical pathway. It is really his own personal experience ( life and career) that he has musicalized for his audience!

    I had seen the show on Broadway and if you have read the tribute/review by the NYTimes Ben Brantley ( arguably Broadway’s most influential theatre critic), it was a master review of how an entertainer can inveigle and can totally charm his audience with a different kind of material not usually seen on the musical stage. Btw, Hugh was awarded a second TONY for his work on Back on Broadway because the show by itself was not a book musical that would qualify for the annual awards — but the American Theatre Wing recognized his tremendous achievement in bringing such a vastly entertaining show to the public!

  5. You went there determined to dislike it and you did. Congratulations on achieving your pre-determined ambition. The vast, vast proportion of 15000 people disagree with you so it should be up to the majority.

  6. Yep completely agree. Nomad Two Worlds was definitely the highlight. Not that Jackman wasn’t great, but I think any performer is going to have trouble pulling off a one man show at an arena like that. At the very least, he needed more familiar songs to draw the audience in.

  7. The critic with less talent in his whole body than Hugh has in his little finger is twitter proud and gushing over the accomplishment of “taking down an icon” … Fat Chance!!!

  8. Are you serious, I was at Rod Laver last night and don’t share your opinion. But, then it would not be fitting for you to not look for negatives, typical journalist review.

      1. Deaf, dumb and heartless regarding? Read the other comments, My comment was the first published and the following comments echoed mine.I was there and what I saw was talent and passion, there were no negatives. What exactly does your comment mean?

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