Published October 17, 2003
If I were Hugh Jackman 's agents, I guess I would have freaked out when he told them — just as his star was on the rise — that he wanted to play Peter Allen in a Broadway musical.
After all, Jackman is the Wolverine from "X-Men." It could not have seemed like the right time to play a gay man who slept with Judy Garland's husband, married her daughter, flounced around in Hawaiian shirts and died of AIDS.
The agents would have been right, and they would also have been wrong.
Last night a lot of celebrities came to the Imperial Theatre to see if Jackman — whose publicist, I'm told, banned press from the after-party — could pull off this odd career turn in "The Boy from Oz."
In no particular order: Songwriter Carole Bayer Sager (who composed most of Allen's best known songs), Jackman's fellow "X-Men" Famke Janssen and James Marsden, plus some heavy hitters like Julianne Moore, Sarah Jessica Parker, Candice Bergen, Liz Smith, Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen Barkin and Ronald Perelman, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford, Joan Hamburg and Joy Behar from "The View."
The only last-minute cancellation was from Regis Philbin, who, I assume, went to see the Yankees triumph over the Red Sox. Fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman was also a no-show, though a publicist told me she was expected with boyfriend Lenny Kravitz at the after-party.
"To which you're not invited," he said brightly.
During the show, I happened to sit across the aisle from Jackman's gloriously blonde and beautiful wife, Deborra-Lee Furness , who filled me in during intermission on Hugh's regimen.
"He had to lose a lot of muscle from 'X-Men' for this," she said. "He went down two or three sizes."
How, I wondered, does Jackman come down from two hours of nonstop dancing and singing?
"He treats it like a job," she said. "He comes home, we have dinner, a bit of tea and jam, and he's in bed by 11."
All that is good to hear, since Jackman literally carries "BFO" for the entire two hours.
It's not that the show is bad — it's not, really. But it is exhaustingly campy and very, very gay. It is the only musical in Broadway history in which one man sings to another the Olivia Newton-John hit, "I Honestly Love You."
To paraphrase "Seinfeld": Not that there's anything wrong with that.
But be prepared: "BFO" is a head-on gay musical love story in which the main character dies of AIDS but is still able to commandeer a big closing number, "I Go To Rio," with congas and dancing girls balancing candelabras on their heads.
Allen never had a hit record of his own, but he did write a couple of big hits in "The Best That You Can Do (Arthur's Theme)" and "Don't Cry Out Loud." (Allen's other songs, also included, all sound alike or like other people's songs, but they are peppy, to say the least.)
I do think his appeal comes from his bizarre relationships with Garland and Liza Minnelli. They are each main characters in the show, a fact which should keep bringing in a niche audience for some time.
The actress who plays Garland, Isabel Keating, has a terrific voice, but she has an eerie aura of being enlivened from Madame Tussaud's. Stephanie J. Block looks and sounds nothing like Minnelli, but her big musical number seemed to be a hit with the audience. To me, they were like female female impersonators.
Jackman is going to get a Tony Award for this role if he doesn't expire from smiling before next June. His wide grin just about lights up the stage at the Imperial when the rest of "BFO" is lost in a muddle.
He has a good voice when he's doing upbeat numbers but tends to sound like the lost Bee Gee when he's trying to croon. His dancing is more athletic than graceful, which I think is a good thing. In the end, though, his presence and charm are what carry the night. He has bucket loads of both.
I'm happy to say that the devastating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, is attracting all kinds of celebrities trying to raise funds for research.
On Monday night, Project ALS — the organization started by the enormously courageous Jennifer Estess and her sisters — will host its annual dinner in conjunction with an HBO documentary called "Three Sisters: Searching for a Cure."
I've known Estess since around 1990 when she was running the Naked Angels Theatre Company along with John Kennedy Jr., Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei and Rob Morrow. It's unbelievable that such a dynamic, terrific young person could have been hit with this disease, but Jenifer dealt with it just the way she operated Naked Angels — by doing something. She's an inspiration to everyone who knows her.
Caroline Rhea is hosting the event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, and some of the definite guests include Fisher, Marisa, and Rob along with Billy Baldwin, Barry Bostwick, Edie Falco, Gina Gershon, Donna Hanover, Mariska Hargitay, Richard Kind and his wife Dana, Camryn Manheim, Julianna Margulies, Alan Ruck, Paul Rudd, Brooke Shields and Frank Pugliese.
You can call 800-603-0270 to see if remaining individual, tax-deductible tickets are still available.
Then, on October 28, Lou Piniella , one of my favorite ex-Yankees, will be honored by the New York chapter of the more established ALS Association.
Honored along with Piniella will be Bob Costas, New York Giants running back Tiki Barber and New York Rangers great Rod Gilbert. This event, at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, is the 9th Annual Lou Gehrig Sports Awards benefit. Tax-deductible tickets can be gotten by calling 212-619-1400.
It won't be long before gambling aficionado Ben Affleck and maybe even J-Lo are featured on the cover of ... Player Magazine. This is the new gaming magazine owned by Avery Cardoza , which is about to hit hotel casinos around the world.
On Tuesday night, Cardoza brought advance copies of the premiere issue to Studio DiModica, where Teddy Lo showed off his light show "Morphology." The show cost $1 million to produce, housing four floors of L.E.D. lights.
Bids are in from nightclubs around the world to rent the exhibit, but it's pricey: Each panel is valued at a mere $400,000. Lo has also invented a new kind of stoplight, but trust me, you won't be seeing that in casinos anytime soon. The only color they're interested in is green.
To New York City Police officer Mike Devine, who braved the lines last night at Radio City Music Hall. Do they teach a class in celebrities and press at the Police Academy? I doubt it. Devine, I was told, is in line for a promotion. He deserves one. ...
And happy birthday to Kurt Vonnegut's No. 1 fan, Milken award-winning teacher Mary Curtiss, who is still guiding her students in the important work of Vonnegut and Charlie Chaplin, valiantly, at her Connecticut high school.