PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Hugh Jackman

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Hugh Jackman Martin Sherman, the librettist for the new Broadway musical about the life of entertainer Peter Allen, The Boy From Oz, remembers when he first saw the show's star, Hugh Jackman.

Hugh Jackman.
Hugh Jackman.

It was at the opening night of Trevor Nunn's recent London revival of Oklahoma!, in which Jackman played Curly. "He came out singing 'Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'' and I remember hearing something I've never heard in a theatre before or since," said Sherman. "I was the sound of hundreds of women going 'Ahhhh'—sighing." Since then, Broadway audiences have wondered about the vaunted charm of this handsome Australian performer. And since he failed to headline the Broadway transfer of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, theatregoers have continued to wonder. But on Sept. 16, New Yorkers will finally make Jackman's acquaintance, as The Boy From Oz begins previews at the Imperial Theatre.

Playbill On-Line: Do you have any memories connected to Peter Allen's songs?
Hugh Jackman: There's one song, "I Still Call Australia home," which is now like an unofficial national anthem in Australia—it's in the show. I remember when it was on television, my dad standing with his hands on my and my brother's head—he had emigrated to Australia from England. I saw him crying. It was one of the few times in my life I saw my father crying. Peter Allen had that ability to cross over to anyone and everyone. Even in the Outback, in the most redneck part of the country, they loved Peter Allen. He was a great Australian, a great entertainer.

PBOL: Was his sexuality ever an issue there?
HJ: Nah! Because it wasn't Peter's defining quality. If this show was about Peter Allen as a gay man, I'd think, "Well, that's not that interesting." Peter's is a great, entertaining story. He's a great showbiz story. He has a very spicy, interesting life. His greatest legacy was his songwriting and him as an entertainer and that's what the show focuses on.

PBOL: The Boy from Oz has a completely new libretto. How is it different from what was done in Australia?
HJ: In Australia, everybody knows Peter and knows intimately about him. We have to assume that a lot of people here don't know a lot about Peter. So it's very different going into it. I think the relationships are a little fuller, a little more rounded and deeper. I think what Martin [Sherman] has done with the script is terrific.

PBOL: How did you develop the character of Peter Allen?
HJ: I watched a lot of tapes, watched Peter a lot. I wanted to get that rhythm of him and the way he performed, and try to capture the relationship he had with an audience. He made that stage feel like a living room. He could connect with people. Even in Radio City Music Hall he could do it. Of course, to get my body into shape, I've have to do the weights and do a lot of dancing and tapping—all that stuff. PBOL: There's been a whole generation of people who have grown up not knowing who Peter Allen was. If someone was to ask what your show was about, how would you describe it?
HJ: I'd say Peter Allen is one of those rare people who remind you how you should live life. He was uplifting. And I hope the show will give you a dose of that.