Wolverine Hits Yellow Brick Road

Hugh Jackman portrays the late entertainer Peter Allen in the new Broadway musical "The Boy from Oz," pictured in this undated production photo. The show opens at the Imperial Theatre in New York on Oct. 16, 2003. AP/BONEAU BRYAN-BROWN

Australian actor Hugh Jackman made his mark with American movie audiences as the hairy, scary mutant superhero "Wolverine."

But, as CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger discovered, Jackman has recently mutated into something completely different: a high-spirited, high-stepping Peter Allen. Jackman takes on the role of the larger-than-life singer/dancer/songwriter, and fellow Australian in the upcoming Broadway show, "The Boy from Oz."

Using many of Allen's original songs, "The Boy From Oz" tells the story of Allen's life and death after a long battle with AIDS.

"Great songs which lyrically, you can launch into from an acting point of view," Jackman says of the musical's score. "It's not just pop songs, even though they were most of his number one hits. There are great stories within the pop song, so they adapt well to the theaters because you don't feel like you're, in say, 'Mama Mia' singing a pop song. You feel like you're projecting a thought."

Discovered by none other than Judy Garland, Peter Allen began his career as a performer in a small town in the Australian Outback, where as a child he tap danced for tips in local pubs.

"He would have had a tough time, you know?" says Jackman of his character. "And his resilience and his courage, and I say courage because I really believe that he was one of the most courageous performers I know of, he was fearless in his dreams and he didn't really care what anyone thought about him, which was ultimately his defining quality."

Jackman earned his spurs in musical theater, playing Curly in the West End London production of "Oklahoma" (which will air Nov. 22 on PBS Great Performances). Yet playing Peter Allen is a role that is very different from others he's tackled. "Oklahoma" would have been his Broadway debut, had the traditional American theatre unions not stood in his way.

"I mean, it's a tough thing to sell to your membership that 'Oklahoma' is gonna be played by a bunch of Brits, led by an Aussie. Kind of like a bunch of Americans doing Crocodile Dundee, you know? It's a little sacrilegious," Jackman laughs, "I understand."

Union problems solved, Jackman is Broadway's new "it" guy with millions of dollars in advance ticket sales for "The Boy From Oz."

"I think it's the most demanding part [I've played] in terms of bringing out different sides of myself. Playing Peter has been a very, dare I say it, therapeutic exercise," Jackman says. "It's had a bigger reverberation in my life than any other show that I've done, and I'm not exactly sure why."

Perhaps it's that this Aussie feels a hometown connection with his character.

"Peter constantly wrestled with the fact that he was away from his mother a lot, and his sister, and his friends back in Australia," Jackman says. "It's weird. It's come up for me a lot because my family is all over the world, and there's a song that Peter sings and he says, 'All the sons and daughters spinning around the world away from their family and friends.'

"Every night I sing it, and it kind of strikes me that on one level I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life and I'm fulfilling a dream I probably wouldn't even have dared to have, you know - to dream about being here on Broadway."

Carol Bayer Sager, who co-wrote with Allen many of the songs in the show, including the Oscar award-winning theme from "Arthur," says she saw a lot of Allen in Hugh Jackman's performance.

"I suddenly burst into tears, just burst into tears," she recalls. "When I gave him a hug after the first preview, I had to remember that I was hugging a man that I don't know all that well. I felt I was hugging a part of Peter."

The show opened on a Friday to rave reviews from critics who seem to admire Jackman's bold move to leave Hollywood for the stage.

"I don't worry about those kinds of things," Jackman says of his risky career choices.

But thus far, Jackman has made all the right decisions, even when he acted against the counsel of those closest to him, like his wife Debra Lee Furness, an actress, director, and advisor to Jackman.

"She's tough on me," Jackman reveals. "Every audition I've ever been to, I've gone through a drilling with Deb. And generally, she's right."

Generally, maybe, but there's always an exception to the rule.

"When I first read for X-Men, they sent three sides of dialogue. The first page said, 'Wolverine, mutant claws come out,'" Jackman recounts. "And she threw them down and she said, 'Hugh, you are not doing this screen test. Absolutely not.'"

But Jackman went against his wife's well-meant advice, nailed the audition, and got the part.

"It's the only time she's ever admitted to being wrong," he says.

Debra was, however, all for her husband taking the role of Peter Allen, and just for the record... she was right again.

  • Rome Neal

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