He’s everything you ever want, he’s everything you ever need and when he’s standing right in front of you it’s clear that Hugh Jackman is fulfilling not just the dreams of thousands in the audience, but his own.
Fuelled by the phenomenal success of The Greatest Showman, the preposterously multitalented 50-year-old Australian is hitting the road in an all-singing, all-dancing revue.
Dubbed “The man. The music. The show” Jackman took to the stage in Glasgow’s Hydro this week, and this review touches on the first two nights. If you’re going to a future concert, it might be best not to read ahead – just enjoy the surprises that await. Otherwise, see you on the other side…
“Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for…” Cheers and screams confirm the truth of the opening line.
Freed by having finally hung up his claws as Wolverine/Logan in the X-Men franchise (which he reconfirms tonight), Jackman is letting his life-long love of musical theatre propel him through a world tour and he is letting rip.
In a breathless two-and-a-half hours, accompanied by dancers, vocalists and orchestra, Jackman revisits highlights from his musical career – songs he’s sung, songs he’s always wanted to sing.
After The Greatest Show and Come Alive, he takes us back to the beginning, recounting how he got his first professional job playing beefy blockhead Gaston in a stage version of Beauty and the Beast.
Of all his formidable, envy-inducing skills, he is a truly great actor.
He devotes a lot of care and attention on Soliloquy from Carousel, which marked another important step in his career, and later races through a Broadway medley, ticking off Luck Be a Lady, Singin’ In the Rain and I Got Rhythm in quick succession. Each time, he transports you to the dramatic moment in each musical. Of all his formidable, envy-inducing skills, he is a truly great actor.
At the end of the first act comes a couple of numbers from Les Misérables, the highlight of which is one of his supporting vocalists, Jenna Lee-James’ towering rendition of I Dreamed A Dream. On the opening night, Jackman let Lee-James take the spotlight to sing another song solo. Born locally, her father had helped build the Hydro and watched from the audience as his daughter performed on its stage.
On the second night he grants a gyrating session to Jude, who held up a sign asking for one last dance before she got married. Lucky for Jude, unlucky for her fiancé William. These personal touches set Jackman’s show apart, combining twinkly charm with an earnest desire to entertain.
After the interval (measured by a clock counting down the 20 minutes) there is a lengthy tribute to Peter Allen, the Australian singer-songwriter best remembered for Arthur’s Theme (“when you get lost between the moon and New York city…”). It gives Jackman the opportunity to resurrect his Tony-award-winning role as Allen in The Boy From Oz, camping it up like Christmas, all spangles and sashaying.
After a spec-tap-ular dance routine, Jackman asks if Ryan Reynolds could do that
The opposite end of the Australian cultural spectrum is celebrated when he brings out Olive, Clifton, Paul and Nathan from the Nomad Two Worlds Foundation, an organisation that empowers indigenous people and encourages “reconciliation through culture.” This culminates in an odd but moving didgeridoo-accompanied Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
There are scraps for X-Men fans too. After a spec-tap-ular dance routine, Jackman asks if Ryan Reynolds could do that. He candidly reveals he was almost fired five weeks into shooting the first X-Men film – told his performance was like looking at a light behind a lampshade. Needing a real-life hero, his wife Deborra saved the dayreminding him about the power of positivity and self-belief. Behind every great showman there’s a great woman, and Jackman dedicates a ballad to her to prove it.
Moments like this walk the tightrope of over-the-top sentimentality but balance is kept by Jackman’s natural charisma and authenticity, which he has brought to every film role, whether adamantium-endowed mutant, French bread thief, grizzled ski jump instructor, prestigious magician, robot boxing coach or Van Helsing.
This quality was encapsulated best by his portrayal of PT Barnum in The Greatest Showman – a fantasy version of a fantasist – the reason most of the fans have showed up tonight.
A 50-strong community choir joins in with a transcendental version of A Million Dreams. From Now On turns into a singalong by a crowd having risen to their feet, but just like the film, one performer sweeps in and steals the show.
In an unbilled surprise, Keala Settle who played Lettie Lutz, aka the bearded lady, delivers the momentous, era-defining anthem, This Is Me. She seems deeply moved when joined by a choir of thousands.
Lamentably, she sings just one song. Imagine her taking on Never Enough or Tightrope, but as it is, her appearance is a sparkly bonus.
Seeing songs from The Greatest Showman performed live is what fans were waiting for but this also feels like the moment Jackman has been waiting for.
At one point he recollects being called a “sissy” by his older brother after asking to take dance lessons. One suspect’s his younger self would be prouder of performing tap dance routines in arenas than he’d be of Oscar nominations or blockbuster films. This is who he’s meant to be.