Huge Act, Man!

Few of us are lucky enough to love what we do.  A vast majority slog across a daily grind of menial, meaningless tasks, the day’s only bright spot the dwindling minutes until quitting time.  When you consider that you will (unless you are a Kardashian or a Hilton) spend most of your life doing a job, it is tragic that many of us won’t ever find that singular vocation that we can relish.

Hugh Jackman doesn’t have that problem.  The Australian actor, who got his star-making break as Wolverine in X-Men eleven years ago when original casting choice Dougray Scott got stuck growling at Tom Cruise on the overlong shooting schedule for Mission: Impossible 2, is finishing up the last of a two-week run of his one-man performance at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre.  By “finishing up” you might suspect that he’s going through the motions as the end draws near.  Not so.  The show is a supernova’s worth of energy and talent blasted at an eager audience whose already high expectations don’t come close to what this natural-born-entertainer is capable of.   With a continent’s worth of charisma and a wit quick enough to rival the most skilled of improv comedians, Jackman takes you on a personally guided tour of his career, his passions and his favorite songs, including stories about his family and a spiritual experience of the beauty of the Australian outback and the magnificence of its indigenous people.  He loves being there, he loves doing this, and unlike some performers who subtly hint that they occupy a stratosphere never to be glimpsed by mere mortals, “Jacko” makes the people who come to see him feel like their coolest BFF got a stage show.

That show ranges from the flamboyant (Jackman reprising his The Boy from Oz role of Peter Allen for a couple of numbers), the touching (a story about Jackman’s father coming to see him play Carnegie Hall, and a quiet rendition of Allen’s moving song “Tenterfield Saddler”), the hilarious (inviting a lucky shlub of an audience member up on stage to dance with two sexy backup singers), the absurd (how the studio behind X-Men thinks he should be spending his downtime), the raunchy (grinding his hips for the female fans), the romantic (a series of clips from his leading man roles set to “L.O.V.E.”) and the transcendent (an incredible closing number involving two digiridoo players and Australian Aboriginal leader and singer Olive Wright).  After witnessing this it’s hard to imagine anyone else – including the Rat Packers at their peak – who could wrap all of these diverse ingredients into a swift 90-minute cocktail that goes down as smoothly as a cool martini.

I’d be remiss in failing to mention the personal connection I have to this show in that an old high school friend is a member of Jackman’s orchestra, and it’s a moment of extreme pride to hear one of the biggest stars in the world give her a shout-out onstage for baking cookies for the entire crew.  Way to go Kate, you done good!

Aaron Sorkin has written that an artist’s job is to captivate you for however long he or she has asked for your attention.  Hugh Jackman does more than that.  He shows you how good it can be when you really love what you do, and it’s a seductive, and inspiring experience that stays with you as you wander back into the office the following morning and behold the litany of frivolous emails and the malfunctioning photocopier demanding your attention.

Too many of us sacrifice our passions with excuses we know don’t hold water.  “It will be too hard.”  “I probably won’t be any good at it.”  For 90 minutes last night, we could understand how richer we are that Hugh Jackman (and my friend Kate) never succumbed to that.  It makes us wonder, too, about the possibilities that might unfold were we to, as Hugh would put it, just “have a go.”  That’s the best lesson to take from Hugh Jackman and one that I suspect he’d probably be cool with.

Thanks for the show, mate.

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