NEW YORK – These days Hugh Jackman (search), best known as the charming, sharp-clawed mutant Wolverine in the "X-Men" movies, is singing a different tune – literally.
The chiseled Australian actor is rehearsing for his Broadway musical debut playing Oscar-winning singer/songwriter Peter Allen (search) in “The Boy From Oz," which begins previews Sept. 16.
Though American audiences know him as the tough-guy with a soft heart in "X-Men," (search) Jackman is no stranger to musical theater: He's performed Down Under in award-winning productions of “Oklahoma” and “Sunset Boulevard."
And he said he's ecstatic to be showing off his musical chops instead of Wolverine's mutton ones.
“I’m excited. That’s the word, excited,” he said at a recent sneak peek of the musical. “Of course I’m a little bit nervous. It’s a big dream of mine, a big moment, but I’m thrilled to be doing it.”
Jackman and the cast recently previewed two numbers from the musical, which tells the story of Allen, a gregarious child from a small town in Australia who came to New York, won an Oscar for the theme song to “Arthur” in 1981 and performed sold-out stints at Radio City Music Hall.
Allen’s rags-to-riches story, which includes his marriage to Liza Minnelli despite the fact that he was gay, is part of the reason Jackman was eager to play the role.
“Peter in Australia, you have to understand, is like Judy Garland,” he said. “He came from the smallest town imaginable in the middle of Australia. He got out of there, came here and made it solo. He was the biggest selling artist ever at Radio City Music Hall. He broke all the rules. And he lived life his own way.”
While Allen, who died of AIDS in 1992, isn’t as well known in the United States as he is in Australia, his songs have continued to live on. His biggest hits, “I Honestly Love You” and “I Go to Rio,” have continued to be used in movies such as "The Wedding Planner" in 2001 and “Muriel’s Wedding” in 1994.
Jackman said he hopes “The Boy From Oz” will increase Americans' appreciation of Allen.
“I feel like this show is, hopefully, going to be the great legacy,” he said. “His story is fantastic. It’s one of those shows -- very uplifting.”
In addition to Jackman’s silver-screen prowess, which should bring in legions of dedicated fans longing for a glimpse of Wolverine, the production is packed with an all-star line up of Broadway veterans.
Jarrod Emick (search), who won a Tony for “Damn Yankees,” plays Allen’s lover. Tony nominees Beth Fowler and Michael Mulheren play his parents. And none of the cast seems to mind that their leading man made his mark in America slicing up bad guys on film.
“Hugh is fantastic. He’s just a gem,” said Emick, who has also appeared in the Broadway performances of "Miss Saigon" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
The show's assistant choreographer, Jessica Hartman, said the X-Man is also a natural dancer.
"He’s great to work with because he is so disciplined and he works so hard and he tries so hard,” said Hartman. “He’ll come in the next day and have it down, so he’s a dream to work with.”
In fact, some of the supporting cast said he’s just downright dreamy.
“[He’s] God’s gift to musical theater,” said dancer Pamela Jordan. “We’re really lucky to have him.”
But will Jackman fans used to seeing the actor as a fighter, not a lover, still swoon for the crooner?
Jordan thinks so.
“Wait until you see him," she said. "He’s in the stratosphere when it comes to talent and charm and God, that accent.”