By Derek May:
Hugh Jackman first clawed his way into our hearts as the ill-tempered, adamantium-infused mutant Wolverine in the X-Men films. For 17 years, the role made him more famous, more buff, and won him more accolades, finally concluding with 2017’s masterpiece, Logan. It’s not a stretch to say that’s where the vast majority of his fanbase is derived, but there’s also a very different side to the Aussie native. As Jackman himself recounts, musical theatre has been in his blood since he was a boy, and he’s proven it between bloodbaths in such films as The Greatest Showman and Les Misérables, for which he received an Oscar nomination.
In fact, beyond the claws, Jackman has earned himself a Golden Globe win amongst three nominations, along with nods from the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, and numerous others. He even has a Tony win for his very un-Wolverine performance as Peter Allen in the stageshow The Boy from Oz. If you haven’t guessed by now, the man is a highly versatile and highly venerated performer with a myriad of entertaining skills. And now, he’s chosen to combine them all into one foot-stomping, tear-jerking spectacle highlighting his work across the decades and mediums.
The Man. The Music. The Show kicked off back in May with a whirlwind world tour. Now nearing its end, the show’s final U.S. stop just happened to be here in my town of San Antonio, Texas—and what a finale it was!
I’ll admit that despite having followed Jackman’s career across the years and genres (hey, I actually LIKE Australia, dammit!), I’ll admit the Wolverine thing was my biggest draw. But as Jackman pointed out at the start, “If you’re ONLY a Wolverine fan, you’re in for a long night.” And while he certainly made multiple nods to the character, the show primarily highlighted his vast musical repertoire.
Some of the numbers were obvious, like opening with the title track from The Greatest Showman and working his way through his musical film roles; but others were pleasant surprises. Jackman played Gaston in a production of Beauty and the Beast and did a fantastic job bouncing around to that narcissistic song. He paid tribute to the Big Apple with “New York, New York” and even touched on a few hard rock favorites (Oy, of course AC/DC was in there!).
But being the nice guy he seems to be (and trust me, from what we saw, he genuinely is), he refused to completely hog the spotlight. Routinely giving praise and acknowledgement to his team of singers, dancers, and musicians, he occasionally sat back and allowed them to take center stage. As a hometown girl, he highlighted Lara Seibert Young and her family in attendance as she belted a powerful number from Les Mis. And of course, one of the biggest draws was having his Showman co-star Keala Settle join him for the North American leg of the tour. Her live rendition of the anthem “This is Me” brought the audience (me included) to tears. And when she announced she would follow that up with a track from her upcoming debut album, I think every one of us thought it would be a near-impossible act to follow. We were wrong. Her song “Harder” was just as powerful and brought just as many tears.
But the show wasn’t just an excuse to celebrate Jackman’s résumé, it was a chance to celebrate the people who helped get him to the top. The first on that list is his wife, Deb, whom he praised on multiple occasions, including singing the song from their first dance before a video backdrop of personal home photos. After 23 years of marriage, it was both moving and lovely to see how strong their connection remains and how much he values her love and support.
In addition, Jackman doubled down on his Aussie roots not only by mentioning it about 200 times throughout the performance but by bringing in a few native pals to showcase. Nathan Mundraby (along with Paul Boon) played the didgeridoo while Clifton Bieundurry belted out a beautiful array of vocalizations, as well as good wishes in his native language. And as an SA resident and requisite Spurs fan, I loved the call outs to Aussie player Patty Mills (who unfortunately couldn't be there), along with Tim, Tony, Manu, and Pop. He knew his stuff, and now I love Jackman all the more.
These weren’t simple tips of the hat without context, however. Jackman supplemented the music with numerous interludes where he told personal stories and engaged directly with the audience. He related, for instance, a time in his life when he felt lost and how volunteering on an aboriginal site helped invigorate his passion and optimism. He proffered several behind the scenes tales, such as Keala Settle’s knockout audition for Showman and his anxiety at not being sure he was taking Logan on the right path during filming on the first X-Men. And while many of these stories have been well honed over the course of many months on the road, he still managed to make each feel fresh, as if telling them for the first time. Additionally, he worked in a hefty amount of comedic improv, particularly with the audience. Jackman proved incredibly funny and witty, often landing punchlines with a stand-up’s ease. Hell, he even worked in a perfect jab at his good buddy and perpetual troll Ryan Reynolds.
What I think I enjoyed best about the show was how it summarized what it might have been like to see him perform those live shows over the years, as the vast majority of us never would. He didn’t just pay lip service to some of his past roles, he truly performed them with equal gusto. I never got to see The Boy from Oz, but now I have a pretty good sense of what I missed. Post intermission, Jackman returned to stage in full Peter Allen character. The voice, the mannerism, the humor were completely brought to life around a medley of songs.
And as an extra treat, it afforded him a perfect opportunity to pull out a member of the audience (in this case Ron), bring him onstage, and give a little impromptu interview in character. It was hilarious, and not just because Ron was so uncomfortable (but a fantastic sport). Afterward, Jackman (back as Hugh) revealed how much Allen had influenced him back home as a kid, and how it was such a gift to portray him. He brought equal pathos when he performed—not just sang, performed—Jean Valjean from Les Mis.
I don’t know if Jackman will ever do a show like this again. He’s certainly still a top movie star, and despite his incredible shape at age 51, these shows look extraordinarily physically taxing. If he doesn’t, I feel privileged to have seen it. Jackman may not be, by his own admission, a classically trained singer with an operatic voice, but he’s no slouch either. The man can sing, and dance, and act, and you can see it all right there in one fabulous package. Legitimately humble and grateful for his continued success, Jackman proves it’s been no fluke. He’s a true showman in every sense of the word, a man who can do it all with a Broadway smile or a mutant snarl. If he ever does decide to hit the road again, I highly recommend grabbing your tickets for an evening you’re not soon to forget. Trust me, bub, you won’t regret it.