Qudos Bank Arena, August 2
Had he been born half a century earlier you can imagine Hugh Jackman slapping backs and swapping highballs with the Rat Pack. Even if he wasn’t quite wicked enough for those boys, his skillset would have been right: an actor, singer and dancer blessed with an easy-in-his-own-skin charm that can shrink a 20,000-seat arena down to something closer to a club. You can imagine him swaggering about the stage at the Sands in Las Vegas; a show-biz throwback who pulls them in from eight to 80; an entertainer.
He certainly had the kids on side, because the swarm behind me (who were even less than eight) were encouraged by their mother to “sing” along at every opportunity (and there were many) – behaviour that usually would have had me attempting my best Wolverine death-stare. But somehow this was that sort of show: something for everyone; a circus with the sheer scale of the production almost dwarfing the tallish star.
The big screens ensured Jackson was put back in proportion, of course, with the close-ups conveying that unforced ease and charm. So the anecdotes – about the early years in Turramurra, about auditions, stage-shows and movies – never seemed like ego-inflation exercises, so much as self-deprecating tales of a boy made good, which, by definition, was against the odds.
To marginally increase the immediacy independently of the big screens, Jackman worked a Mick Jagger-like runway that poked its nose about 30 metres into the stalls. From this he descended into the adoring throng, firstly to acknowledge and dance with his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, during All the Way, and then later, when he was in Peter Allen mode, to pluck an infatuated woman from the crowd and lead her to the stage, where she clung to him like a life-buoy, until she could be induced to dance with him.
For this lengthy Allen segment (after the interval, in a generous show), Jackman initially donned an outfit that turned him into a human mirror-ball (which would have made Allen green with envy). It culminated in a version of I Go to Rio that brought a taste of that town’s Carnival to the stage, with both the projections and dancers’ costumes equally dazzling.
Jackman ranged across many of his best-known roles, with Valjean’s Soliloquy from Les Miserables standing out. Thanks to some special effects he even revisited Wolverine – having previously warned a male patron that “it could be a long night” if he was only there as a fan of that character.
Amid all the razzamatazz, his own musical loves and inspirations would seem to lie on a line running from Gene Kelly to Frank Sinatra. Singing in the Rain was essayed as a big dance routine, which only served to draw an unflattering comparison with the original. Similarly New York, New York highlighted that his voice – unquestionably persuasive at its best – could seem light and reedy when taken out of its comfort zone. Yet he sang Mack the Knife with genuine panache, as he did an interesting, re-harmonised Over the Rainbow.
Mounting what was called The Man. The Music. The Show. involved 193 people, including a 20-piece orchestra, two singers, a children’s choir, eight dancers, a compelling indigenous quartet and the striking voice of Keala Settle, who co-starred with Jackman in The Greatest Showman. He isn’t quite that, but at 50 he’s a long, long way down the road from where he started in Turramurra.