Theater Guyd: Hugh Jackman Is “Back” and Bootyful

David Toussaint
Authored by
David Toussaint
New York Guyd/Features Writer
December 4, 2011
11:13 a.m.

 

“Performer” is one of those words that, like “icon,” has become all too commonplace. Anyone who puts on a show and who’s popular and who’s not known for one particular talent is a “great performer.” News flash, folks: Calling Britney Spears a “great performer” is like calling Pamela Anderson a “natural beauty.” Cher is not a great performer, and Madonna (god love her) is a great pop star and a genius at being Madonna and a pro who puts on a fantastic show. But she is not a great performer. 

Hugh Jackman is a great performer. In Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, the singer/actor/dancer/hunk of Hollywood yore doesn’t ignite you with his singing (at times his voice is a tad annoying), or his dancing or his monologue ballads. He ignites the Broadhurst Theatre with the power of play. His smile is infectious, his movements are seductive, and his relationship with the audience is like fantastic sex. Liza Minnelli, who is a great performer, once said the audience was “like food,” and Jackman eats us up too. 

It almost doesn’t matter what Jackman sings (and, for the record, he goes through about a zillion-and-a-half medleys and numbers ranging from writers like Irving Berlin to the Freddy Mercury–who was a great performer). You can’t not watch him, and that’s why he works. When Jackman sashays across the stage he’s like a male Bette Midler (another great performer), his perky butt prancing along behind him like a hungry Hollywood starlet. 

Jackman has been described as the most masculine effeminate man in show business or the most effeminate masculine man in show business, and that’s his selling point. Buffed up with an impossibly tiny waist, the tall dark and handsome Jackman swivels and gyrates and taunts women and men alike.

Early in the show Jackman sang “Fever,” first rubbing his thighs, and then bringing up a guy from the audience for some Salsa dancing. Later on, in a terrific Peter Allen tribute (Jackman won a Tony for The Boy from Oz), he crawled over the mezzanine boxes to flirt with a hunky theater-goer, then jumped downstage for the kind of crotch-happy choreography I haven’t witnessed since The Gaiety closed. When Jackman does go for the gusto, as in “Hard to Say Goodbye,” his voice soars as effortlessly his legs kick for the lighter stuff. 

To know Jackman is to know how much he includes the audience; remembering names, taunting late-comers, a la Patti Lupone (yep, a great performer), even pointing out celebs—Joan Rivers and David Copperfield were introduced. To figure out his mindset is a bit more daunting. He’s not desperate and he’s not dirty, and he’s unabashedly in love with himself. 

Jackman promoted future projects like the film version of Les Miserable and assumed we love hearing about the Wolverine series as much as he enjoys bragging about it—and the physique needed to carry it off. His name dropping of notables like Steven Spielberg did nothing to further the show except to let the audience know that Jackman is famous enough that Steven Spielberg calls him. He’s also that dying breed of performer who talks of his wife as an unnamed secondary entity. “A happy life is a happy wife” and “You’re about to go to bed with the next host of the Academy Awards” were two references that would have sent me to Divorce Court. 

A political section late in the show was a mistake (Streisand would have been booed), especially as it came so close to a lengthy after-show Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraiser. Within 10 minutes, Jackman had auctioned off two of his tank tops and one belt and raised $30,000 for the cause. Who needs modesty when the whole world’s biting back. yes

Reviewing the Audience: Toussaint Takes on the Crowd (Friday Night, 8 p.m. Performance):

In a word, horrendous. Most of the orchestra crowd sauntered to their seats after eight p.m., sippy drinks in hand. (Apparently, when you pay top price for seats, the show time is actually when you contemplate leaving the bar and finding your row.) Jackman is so good that he kept most of the audience behaved for the first act, but toward the end of the show those gosh-darn bridge-and-tunnel crowds needed to rush out in record numbers to make their train home. But don’t worry, as they tripped over people and kicked over cups and coats they apologized profusely. The charming young woman in front of me talked to her boyfriend during all of Act II, except for a brief moment when she got up and pulled her jeans back up over her underwear. Smart Phones were taking photos and videos the entire time, and the ushers (who all deserve a raise) were making so many mad dashes down the aisles to explain the rules, they should have gotten credit as the Greek Chorus. Where’s the Pepper Spray when it’s really needed? angry

–D.T.

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