PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway — The Jackman Cometh, Again

By Harry Haun
11 Nov 2011

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A movie had a lot to do with him being on Broadway right now, he informed the audience: When "Wolverine 7" (he jests, but not much) was delayed a third time, he thought it time to work on a musical review of his life he'd been mulling for a while, so he spoke to Warren Carlyle about directing and choreographing the act.

"We started talking about the show in January," Carlyle recalled. "Then we did a production in San Francisco and another two weeks in Toronto, and now we're here. We did a lot of work on the show, moved things around, stuff like that, and we cut plenty — entire medleys. We probably cut 40 minutes of music and put in another 40. I mean, we've really been going at it. Hugh has been incredible throughout this whole process. There's just no one like him in the world."

Of course, Jackman pointed out, doing a musical on Broadway put him at cross purposes with the producers of his action-movie franchise, who always like him to bulk up for Wolverine, a hirsute hulk of a hunk with acute cutlery for fingernails — and the sheer effort he puts into the show causes the weight to melt away.

"There are three things that make you lose weight," he said, starting to enumerate with his fingers. "The first is diet, the second is exercise, the third is—um—uh—the third . . ." His face went into what could only be called a Rick Perry blank.

The governor's gaffe was the joke of the day, only hours old, and here it was in Jackman's show, raising suspicions that the easy banter that seems to come out of his mouth in the moment was the work of a comedy writer in the wings.

Kinda guilty as charged — but not completely, he confessed after the show: "A guy called John Mack has worked with me on the Oscars, the Tony Awards, anytime I get up there. He makes me funnier than I really am in life. He helps me out, but, at the same time, if it's a one-man show, I want the audience to feel they're had a couple of hours with me, so I had to knuckle down and do a bit of the writing myself."

Warren Carlyle and Angie Canuel
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The to-bulk-or-not-to-bulk debate dovetailed into a dancing-duel — "Gotta Dance," "I Won't Dance," "Shall We Dance," "Arthur Murray Taught Me To Dance," "Do I Hear a Waltz?" and so on. Jackman's method of overwhelming his audience is the medley montage, which was the centerpiece of a Tony show that he hosted. There is an exhilarating string of them. "L-O-V-E (L is the for way you look at me)" accompanies a movie montage of sultry eye-locks and such. New York, his new home, led into "I Happen To Like New York," "On Broadway," "Lullaby of Broadway." He doesn't pussyfoot about with his selections. They're crème de la crème.

Albert Poland, the longtime teen president of the Judy Garland fan club who grew up to general-manage Jackman's Broadway heart-winner, The Boy From Oz, has seen no difference in their primal showbiz skills to wear down and win over audiences. (On second thought, he quipped, "Hugh is taller.")

So it's not inappropriate that Jackman, who has set the gold standard for entertainer, should try on the signature song of the previous title-holder. When he sings "Over the Rainbow," it's part of the evening's most moving montage and reflects in his own roots — a heartfelt salute to his homeland and the Aborigines outback. He brought four of them to the stage (two bearing didgeridoos) to accompany him on the song.

"When I was about 20," he said, "I had a chance to live out there in Central Australia in an aboriginal community, so when I was trying to work out how to share how I felt about my country with everyone, I invited four aborigines to come and help me do that so they can play the didgeridoos, sing, talk and create this number."

All four — Clifton Bieundurry, Paul Book, Oliver Knight and Nathan Mundraby — mark their Broadway debuts, as do four of the six leggy backup singers.