Saturday, November 24, 2007

The great jukebox in the sky

I have finally concluded my tour of Hugh Jackman's career highlights with a bootleg DVD of the Broadway musical The Boy From Oz. It's all Peter Allen's music, linked together by the warhorse device of a jukebox musical that tells of his showbiz rise and death. I didn't realize how many of his songs I knew, like "The best that you can do is fall in love," "Everything old is new again," and "I Honestly Love You." Unfortunately, if I tell you that this last is sung by a dead character dressed all in white, that pretty much sums up the problems of this musical.

A lousy, lousy book and poor characterization, leading to Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli being practically caricatures. Some of the most boring group choreography I've ever seen; I've seen better with non-dancers bobbing and kneeling in timed patterns. A "hidden" childhood trauma that "accounts" for Peter's emotional stuntedness. And a big splashy Radio Music Hall performance screaming out for a huge production number inexplicably done with next to no flair, though considering the rotten choreography, I can't imagine it could have gotten a lot better.

Against this, you have the songs themselves, some very good singers in the supporting cast, including a truly charming, cartwheeling, tap-dancing little boy playing young Peter (and probably getting beaten up on the playground, poor kid). And, of course, you have Hugh Jackman's sheer star power. He is a very good singer, a little uneven. He's at his best in the big power ballads and splashy numbers. Moves well, not exactly Gene Kelly. Who cares? You can't look away -- which is why the musical got by, since he's on stage most of the time.

Listening to the dead people sing, in two numbers. You would think they would have known to pull that stupid stunt once at most. One is Hugh Jackman's partner, who sings "I Honestly Love You" to him after he dies of AIDS. Could he not have sung it on his deathbed? I ask for so little.

And yes, two men kiss, Peter's called a fag (in a loving way, kind of, by his blustering manager), he rubs all up against some one-night-stand lover. I do wonder if any families or conservatives ever walked out! I remember hearing tales of people walking out of Rent.

This musical lasted a year on Broadway and closed when Jackman's contract was up, of course. He wanted it to go on and apparently particularly wanted Ewan McGregor to take his place. McGregor is another one of these multi-talented men I hate to love, and he's done a musical in the West End (and Moulin Rouge). He and Robbie Williams both turned it down. The problem was that they needed a big star to keep it going, but Jackman is so damn brilliant and engaging that it would have been a thankless task to follow his Tony-winning performance; the ensemble is not enough to keep it going, nor is the musical and staging. Not to mention that it looks like an exhausting role.

Well, I still greatly regret that I never saw it on Broadway, but if Jackman ever makes his Carousel movie post-writers-strike, I'm there.


broadwaygal said...

Heidi, I must tell you, the TBFO video doesn't even come close to what it was like to see Hugh Jackman on stage. The man has the most incredible stage presence I've ever seen. The video doesn't show the antics that he would perform every night involving audience members during the "Bicoastal" number in the show.
He was brilliant! It was thrilling!
I've gone to the theatre for many, many years, and I've never enjoyed anything as much as The Boy From Oz!

Hugh Jackman also toured in the show throughout Australia last year in larger arena-type venues similar to Madison Square Garden.
Because these venues had much larger stages than on Broadway, it was a much bigger show, with a bigger cast, and bigger sets. In the Radio City scene, he danced with 36 "Rockettes" which made it a much more authentic recreation of Peter Allen's brilliant performances. When Hugh sang "I Still Call Australia Home" he was accompanied by the Australian Girls Choir, and it was an incredibly moving, very emotional
scene for everyone in the audience.

It was an incredible production, and even better than the Broadway show. But both productions were unforgettable, and I don't think we'll ever seen anything as thrilling again.

Heidi said...

Thanks for your comments! I heard that the Aussie tour was something else. I know that they put at least one song back in -- and yes, it would have been wonderful to have real Rockettes for a kickline in that number, as I think we all saw at the Tony Awards.

Many critics who have seen generations of Broadway swear that this is one of or indeed the great individual performances of all time. You were so lucky to see it.