NEW YORK -- New York is in a Hugh Jackman state of mind. The native Australian has become a resident through and through, and now he's returned to where he belongs, a Broadway stage, seven years after winning a 2004 Tony for "The Boy From Oz."
"Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway," a song-and-dance celebration of his life, career and talent, was already breaking box-office records at the Broadhurst Theatre in its first week and is easily the best reviewed show since "The Book of Mormon" last year. He's star, host, comedian, singer, dancer -- you name it -- in a one-man tour de force of energy and charisma that winks at his nice-guy image and movie hits and misses. He dares you not to adore him, even though audiences arrive already under his spell. At the matinee Sunday, the applause began the second the orchestra played a note.
You could call Mr. Jackman a throwback to multitalented entertainers of Hollywood's golden era, with a dash of Gene Kelly's athleticism and Fred Astaire's grace, but you'd have to throw in equal measures of Cary Grant's sex appeal and Errol Flynn's derring-do, and he can sing better than all of them, even though that's not his strongest suit.
In "Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway," he's showing off and having a ball doing it, with the bonus that he looks good in a tux or gold lame and doesn't need Wolverine's Adamantium claws to make a point.
Two weeks in, he has broken the house record at the Broadhurst -- for the week ending Nov. 13, the show grossed $1,247,650 -- and the show is sold out for every weekend through its 10-week run.
Distracted as I was before curtain to have Harry Potter's Professor Snape, Alan Rickman, sitting two rows ahead of me, once Mr. Jackman strolled onstage singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," the floor was his and his alone.
The creative team knew not to put anything in the way -- no special effects, no fussy musical arrangements -- of the show's star. All the razzle dazzle emanates from Mr. Jackman,
For structure, there is a sugar-coated trip through his life and career with a few groaner jokes to pass the time, but even then, he gets laughs. After powering through "Soliloquy" from "Carousel," he offered that it was longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage. Another time, he asked if there were any NBA fans in the audience (I was one of three people who clapped), was thrown a basketball from offstage, dribbled three times and then threw the ball back, saying, "That's all you're going to see this season."
No matter how lame the jokes were, the audience laughed, because why not laugh while waiting to be seduced or charmed or just plain blown away?
Mr. Jackman opened the second act dressed in gold lame, gyrating for a granny in the side balcony while in the persona of "The Boy From Oz," the late Peter Allen. He performed several numbers from his Tony-winning turn or pieces of them. My favorite moment from this segment is one of the quiet ones, when he sings Mr. Allen's autobiographical "Tenterfield Saddler" with just a guitar player picking out accompaniment.
It was in "The Boy From Oz" that Mr. Jackman won a Fred Astaire Award as the best dancer on Broadway, and he gets to show even more styles and his natural grace here. He's worked this show first in San Francisco and then in Toronto, so it feels tight and you still get your money's worth.
After Mr. Jackman's quick change from the gold and sparkles of being Peter Allen, we got a taste of that old Hollywood star quality in a medley of musicals such as "Guys and Dolls," "Singin' in the Rain" and "Sing, Sing, Sing," accompanied by six lovely show girls (four making their Broadway debuts) and an 18-piece onstage orchestra.
The mood grew serious for one segment that included four guest artists from his native land. A video montage that included scenes from the box-office flop "Australia," with music by the country's indigenous people, included vocalist Olive Knight, an Aboriginal community and cultural leader. Instead of the usual pitch at this time of year for Broadway Cares: Actors Equity Fights AIDS, we were asked to support Nomad Two Worlds, a collaborative art project with indigenous artists.
It's a sign of how likable Hugh Jackman is that he could demonstrate his love for Australia while explaining how he had moved his family's home base to New York City without missing a beat.
And he needed a moment or two to pause between lighting up the stage with high-energy numbers that left him, and us, breathless.
His dance timing was impeccable, but he played it loose when it came to the lyrics of some songs. When he began "Fever" with the last verse, he stopped himself and broke up laughing before regrouping. Not for the last time, he turned the moment to his advantage, managing to be self-deprecating and thoroughly charming while holding the audience in the palm of his hands.
"Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway" is at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., New York. Tickets: Telecharge.com or 1-800-432-7250.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.