Jackman is a B’way wizard in ‘Oz’

Prod'n got mixed reviews, sees gains at B.O. every week

After making his Broadway debut Thursday night in “The Boy From Oz,” Hugh Jackman returned to a sold-out theater Saturday night. And already he is rewriting the Peter Allen bio-tuner. Well, just slightly.

In the musical’s second-act number, set in the legendary Reno Sweeney cabaret, Jackman turned to the Imperial Theater audience to say, “I suppose you’re all wondering what the score is.”

He, of course, was referring to the Marlins vs. Yankees World Series game. It’s precisely the kind of audience-ingratiating shtick Peter Allen delivered in his nightclub act.

Jackman’s producers had some other scores to report over the weekend.

The $9 million musical came to its Thursday opening night with a $10 million advance and wrapped $250,000 on Friday (with no perf that night) and $150,000 on Saturday and over $120,000 on Sunday. Those wrap numbers are promising if not eye-popping. “Hairspray” did $1.8 million its first Friday, and the recent revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” took in $300,000.

Unlike those two rave-prone blockbusters, however, “Boy” received mostly mixed reviews that lavished praise on Jackman but nixed the show. Of the major reviewers, Howard Kissell of the New York Daily News was a notable exception, with his notice very upbeat on all aspects of the production.

“This is a crowd-pleasing show,” said “Boy” producer Ben Gannon. “Most people who are coming either don’t read the New York Times or don’t base their ticket-buying on the reviews.”

Producers are prone to say such things when the reviewers don’t comply. But in this case, most observers agree with Gannon.

“Boy” sold out over the weekend, and its preem week grossed about $723,000, up $20,000 over the previous week. That’s a very healthy sign since most shows register a B.O. decline during their heavily comped opening session. It could mean word of mouth is strong. Indeed, “Boy” increased its B.O. every week of previews and actually turned a $250,000 profit for that four-week period. Few shows manage even to break-even during tryouts.

As for those reviews, if the critics didn’t like the show, they adored Hugh Jackman. (In other words, there are quotes aplenty to float print ads and posters.)

Broadway insiders are also a bit agog. When did any show snag a star of Jackman’s calling-card caliber to headline? He’s not an out-of-work TV or film star looking for a legit jump-start to the career. He’s not giving 10 weeks, then flying off to a movie location.

Jackman could be a first: Here is a film actor (“X Men,” “Van Helsing”) on the cusp of superstardom who has signed on for 52 weeks to a Broadway production, which means he won’t leave the show until mid-September 2004. “Boy” can recoup in 30-35 weeks. “But 35-40 weeks is more realistic,” Gannon said.

The downside, of course, is that Jackman is virtually irreplaceable. No current star on Broadway, Bernadette Peters in “Gypsy” included, is more synonymous with his or her show’s success than Jackman. For that reason, Gannon and fellow producer Robert Fox took out star insurance, which is a whopping 3%-10% of the $9 million capitalization. Gannon won’t give the exact dollar amount. “It’s somewhere in there,” he acknowledged.

As a career move, Jackman’s doing “Boy” has provoked plenty of industry head-scratching over the past few months. Why put an $8-million-a-movie career on hold to do Broadway?

With the reviews now under Jackman’s Hawaiian shirt, it suddenly looks like a brilliant decision.

“Everybody in Hollywood who comes to New York will have to see the show,” said one agent not associated with the tuner. “Over the next few months, Hugh Jackman will be offered everything.”

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