Monday, August 02, 2010

Great Moments in New York Theater – The Boy From Oz: Hugh Jackman

As a teenage boy I loved listening to Peter Allen records. I don’t know why. He didn’t have a particularly pleasant singing voice. Looking at his picture on the album covers, he didn’t attract me at all. Nevertheless, I loved listening to Peter Allen records. I loved the songs he wrote and the style with which he performed them. I guess that’s what makes a person a star; when certain of their talents overcome certain of their shortcomings. I didn’t stop to analyze why I loved his albums, then, as I would now – but back then I didn’t try to analyze everything the way I do now. I just listened to the albums and enjoyed them. Then, one day, I found out that he had been married to Liza Minnelli and that Judy Garland had been his mother in law. Then, years later, I found out he was a gay male. Well. No wonder I loved his albums. I was just tapping into a more instinctual attraction to the man. A gay teen in the 70s and 80s, I was always looking for validation, for proof that I wasn’t alone, for hope that I could succeed in spite of my situation (that’s the way people were taught the think back then).

I entered college in 1982, a closeted and terrified gay boy in North Texas with a great collection of albums that included showtunes, movie soundtracks, divas and Peter Allen.

I loved him.

I was extremely saddened by his death and by the fact that it was AIDS that took him from the world. I have continued to love and honour his talents, all these years later.

I didn’t know what to think about a musical about the life of Peter Allen. I wondered if the story of his life would prove interesting enough for the public. I questioned if people remembered him as respectfully and as fondly as I did. I didn’t know if the theater going public cared about his music, if people still wanted to hear it. I puzzled over whether they would find the right person to play him. I read that they had tried the musical out in his native Australia, with great success. So maybe it would work. We would just have to wait and see.

I didn’t think Hugh Jackman was the right person to play Peter Allen. I thought he was far too beautiful, far too masculine, to be believable as the unlikely star I had admired in my youth. I mean, let’s be honest, Peter Allen was not the butch one in the outfit. He never tried to hide his affectation (anyone who has heard a live Peter Allen record can attest to this fact). Just, the more I thought about it, as the day of the Broadway opening approached, the more I questioned the choice of casting.

Happily, I was wrong.

The thing about being a star, about being a great actor, is that you transcend the differences you have with the real-life character you are playing by using your talent and charisma to make the audience see you as you wish for them to. Hugh Jackman was, indeed, too handsome and too masculine to be playing Peter Allen; and, yet, when he was on that stage, all you could see was Peter Allen. His was a performance of complete commitment and abandon. It was one of those performances that you remember the rest of your life; and, as a matter of fact, everyone who saw it will.

The Boy From Oz was not a great show. That’s what everyone said. It wasn’t amazingly written, the Peter Allen canon of songs did the same thing every other canon of songs does when you try to shoehorn it into a Broadway musical for which the canon wasn’t actually written (unless it is a revue, natch). In many ways, The Boy From Oz is a jukebox musical; but, like Jersey Boys, is departs from being a Jukebox musical because it is a biography – and it is difficult to tell the biography of a singer/songwriter unless you use their canon of work. Jersey Boys just does it better. The Boy From Oz, though, isn’t offensive, like some jukebox musicals. It had a lot of heart, some good to great to legendary performances and those wonderful Peter Allen songs. Everyone knew that The Boy From Oz wasn’t going to win Tony awards in the creative categories; it was going to win one Tony Award and one Tony Award, only: Best Actor in a Musical. It was one of the most well deserved Tony Awards ever presented; because Hugh Jackman was more than just Peter Allen. He was more than just The Boy From Oz. He was the entire Broadway season. HE became the top story. He was all anybody could talk about. He was hailed, everywhere, as the nicest, most generous, kindest, most easy going superstar to land on Broadway. He was lauded as the performance of the season, indeed, of several seasons recently. He was Broadway’s brightest light that season.

And he deserved it.

I am sorry for anyone who didn’t get to see him do this lovely musical (and, in spite of criticisms from the press and other people, I did find it to be a lovely musical – one that I felt honoured my boyhood idol) because it’s that thing we go to see live theater for: a moment that you remember forever.

When people ask me the singular performances from the Broadway stage that stand out in my mind, the ones I will remember forever, I start my short list “Reba in Annie Get Your Gun, Antonio in Nine, Donna in Wonderful Town, Joanna in Into the Woods….

Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz


Blogger Daniel said...

oh, it's amazing post! Hugh was great and unbelievable as Peter.


2:42 AM  
Anonymous critique said...

Hugh Jackman gave the best individual performance that I have ever seen on Broadway! I went to Sydney, Australia to see him in the Arena production of The Boy From Oz in 2006. And that production was even better than the Broadway production!

3:11 AM  

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