PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway — The Jackman Cometh, Again

By Harry Haun
11 Nov 2011

James Lipton
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The rest of the "cast" is drawn, spur-of-the-moment style, from the audience whether they like it or not. On opening night, one elderly gentleman named Herb (pronounced "'erb") was caught napping on the aisle by Jackman and sentenced to the stage to lead the finger-snapping for "Fever." He proved remarkably adept at it and turned out to be the retired agent for Jackie Gleason and Bobby Darin.

"Every time I come to Broadway," Jackman later told the press, "it amazes me the energy you get from the audience. I just feel lucky every night when I come out on the stage. It's the greatest city in the world and the greatest place to be on stage.

"When you're in New York — they're all great characters — you never know what you're going to get. It keeps it fresh and alive for me and, I think, for everybody else. The thing that I love about the theatre is that feeling of 'I saw something that only happened that night,' and I wanted to be able to create that feeling in the show."

Costume designer William Ivey Long kept Jackman conservatively attired for most of the evening but was unsparing with the gold lame when the actor made his second-act entrance in a balcony box as Peter Allen, the Aussie songwriter who was Garland's son-in-law at the time of her death and who was given his full showbiz due in Jackman's Tony-winning performance. Allen songs bookend the second act, and the opening medley climaxes in a whirling frenzy with "I Go to Rio."

The number gets some glitzy curtain streamers from John Lee Beatty — a welcome change from the dowdy set of his other Broadway opening of the week, Venus in Fur. "I have a few other pieces flying in," he said, "but, with Hugh Jackman, what do you need? You don't need anything. You just keep out of his way."

The audience arrived thoroughly jazzed for what lay ahead, and all Jackman really had to do was preach to the converted. The uncharacteristically uncritical James Lipton of "Inside the Actors Studio" couldn't think of a role he would like to see Jackman play. "Anything," he said, "anything he wants to do. He's the best."

Hamish Bowles
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"I'd watch Hugh Jackman open his mail for two hours on stage," contended fashion consultant Clinton Kelly. "Anything that he's in, I'm going to go see."

Vogue's European Editor at Large Hamish Bowles seconded that: "I'm a great fan," he volunteered, uncoaxed. "I think he's the quintessential showman. He has such an extraordinary range. I mean, to go from The Boy From Oz to A Steady Rain — that's quite a Broadway feat. But I just think he has such enormous charisma and stage presence. He's a real born performer."

Donna Karan's ruling: "He's outrageous. He's beyond any woman's desire." As first-nighters go, there was an inordinate number from the fashion field — John Varvatos, Robert Verdi, Andre Leon Talley.

Kathy Griffin arrived at the theatre a tad overhyped and under-informed. "How could I not be looking forward to this? I'm very excited. I hear it's a nudie show so he will be topless and, maybe, bottomless — kind of like a one-man Oh! Calcutta! That's what I hear it is. I hope you haven't heard anything different. I was just talking to some guys in a bathhouse. I believe everything they tell me."

Shifting gears into "seriously, folks," Griffin came on with the real stuff: "Hugh Jackman really is kind of a one of a kind. He's a real live star. He's a real live movie star, a real live Broadway star, a television star — there's nothing he can't do."

Rachael Ray found Jackman to be the perfect guest for her television show. "We had him on just a couple of weeks ago," she said. "He's so charming, and the audience was just in stitches. He told us, when he was on the show, this show's going to be different every single night. I wish I could go every night so I could notice."

"Precious" director Lee Daniels was still lamenting a lost chance to work with him. "We were going to work together, but the movie fell apart. It was called 'Selma,' and he was going to play a sheriff," Daniels said. But the director was consoling himself with editing a movie he has just directed: "The Paper Boy" with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron. Next for Daniels: a redoing of "Valley of the Dolls."

"Movies don't use Hugh to his potential," moaned New York Observer's Rex Reed, leaving the theatre with Marge Champion on his arm . "He needs to be on the stage. It's too bad the stage can't afford him because there's nobody in the theatre today like this. Wouldn't you love to see him do On a Clear Day You Can See Forever? Wouldn't you love to see him do The Music Man? Wouldn't you love — I mean, please! You can't be a movie star who makes a living in the theatre."

Also in attendance were Princess Lee Radziwill, Vogue high-priestess Anna Wintour, gossips Liz Smith and Cindy Adams (not together), Annie Golden, Evita choreographer Rob Ashford, Venus in Fur helmsman Walter Bobbie, Broadway's Mandy Patinkin and son, Anthony Edwards and daughter, soon-to-be-Kennedy Center-honored Barbara Cook and, from the back of house, smiling contentedly (as well he should), Shubert chairman, Philip J. Smith.

And let's not forget Nina Landau, who "came here from Scottsdale, Arizona, to celebrate my 65th birthday," she relayed cheerfully. "I've just finished a few health issues, and I'm celebrating life the best way I know how." She was with sister Beth and their 92-year-old "forever young" cousin, Faye Young.

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