It’s about time! Many of the initial reviews of the just-opened Broadway musical “The Boy from Oz” were nothing less than vicious. Over the past few days, I have pondered the items — especially a thoroughly cruel one by the New York Times‘ Ben Brantley that gave me the impression that the critic was deliberately trying to kill the show. Now, that is only my suspicion. I don’t know Brantley or the workings of his mind. But after reading his meanspirited hatchet job, that is the only conclusion this admittedly biased observer (who is quite knowledgeable about how the show was put together from its original Australian production to the present) could draw.
My only comfort was that every review I saw — the nasty ones, the mixed ones, and the glowing ones — gave raves to star Hugh Jackman, who by all accounts, makes a phenomenal Great White Way debut in the role of the flamboyant singer, dancer, songwriter, and showman Peter Allen.
The main criticism from the sniping critics: “BFO” is all flash and very little substance. Obviously, they didn’t get the point. The show is supposed to be twinkly razzle dazzle and a rollicking good time. Hell, that’s what the late Peter Allen was all about. Yes, he had his dark side, and that is alluded to in the play, but Allen — Mr. “Don’t Cry Out Loud” — wanted to spread joy and fun. And that is precisely what “BFO”‘s creative team set out to give Broadway audiences. What a shame that a number of the critics just didn’t get that.
Too bad for them — theatergoers do get it. And so does the Hollywood Reporter‘s Robert Osborne, who offers a joyous, enthusiastically positive review of both “The Boy from Oz” and its astoundingly versatile and talented star attraction.
Rarely has a roof been lifted off a theater by the kind of thunderous applause that greeted Jackman (as the late Peter Allen) and the sensational “Oz” cast several times throughout the musical’s premiere at the Imperial Theatre, rising to a crescendo during the show’s knockout finale: Jackman descending a glitzy Robin Wagner-designed staircase to a sea of Ziegfeldian-dressed (by William Ivey Long) showgirls and dancing boys, shaking shoulders and delivering a slam-bang version of one of Allen’s signature songs, “I Go to Rio.” (The house erupted.) …
The next day, some critics knocked the show, clearly missing the point — it was obviously intended as a bouncing, flashy Broadway entity (like Allen himself), not a deep-rooted, docu-inspection of the Australian songwriter-showman’s rise to fame and eventual death from AIDS.
But no one discounted Jackman’s contribution: “Sensational! He can start rehearsing his acceptance speech anytime this morning” (Barnes, the [New York] Post). “When you die, the next best thing to going to heaven may be having a musical based on your life in which you are played by Hugh Jackman. (He is) dazzling” (Kissel, the [New York] Daily News). “A performance so overwhelming, so big it takes your breath away” (Hamburg, WOR Radio). “Hugh is so hot, steam rises from the seats at the Imperial Theatre” (Collins, WWOR-TV). My view: Put this in the books as one of the great Broadway debuts in the past 20-30 years, a magnificent throwback to the days when that rarity known as “a matinee idol” existed, helping money gush like an oil well onto the Big Street. (Jackman, for the record, has signed for a year’s run in “Oz”; as long as he’s in residence, there’ll be little rest for the ticket sellers at the Imperial boxoffice. But heaven help Jackman standby Kevin Spirtas or understudy John Hill, excellent as they may be, if they ever have to go on in his place).
Last weekend, CBS’s “Sunday Morning” offered viewers clips of the singing and dancing Hugh in action — it was absolute magic. If you only know him as X-Man Wolverine, you will be blown away — and thrilled.
I am saving my pennies in hopes of getting to NYC ASAP to see the divine Jackman in action. (Hire me — will work for an orchestra seat!)
Love a good musical? Don’t miss “The Boy from Oz.”