Tonycast takes on a new Hugh

Presenters include Parker, Broderick, Walters

NEW YORK — Can a Hollywood star save Broadway’s beleaguered awards show?

“X2” topliner Hugh Jackman, who comes to Broadway this fall in new musical “The Boy From Oz,” will host the 2003 Tony Awards June 8. Nods will be broadcast on CBS from 8-11 p.m.

The show needs Jackman’s star power to attract viewers. Its average audience has fallen from 13 million in 1997, when Rosie O’Donnell hosted, to 8 million last year, when Bernadette Peters and Gregory Hines did the honors.

“Oz,” which opens Oct. 16 at the Imperial Theater, is based on the life of the late Peter Allen, another entertainer from Down Under.

Presenters set for the Tonys so far include Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Barbara Walters, Tyne Daly, Danny Glover, Christopher Reeve, Laurence Fishburne, Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave and Joey Fatone.

Jackman is not new to either the Tonys or the Gotham stage. Last June, he appeared on the Tony telecast to present the musical revival award to “Into the Woods.” Four days later, he won rave reviews for his one-night turn in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” co-starring Audra McDonald, at Carnegie Hall. That June 6 gala celebrated the centennial of Richard Rodgers.

This year’s Tony telecast should turn into a B.O. bonanza for “The Boy From Oz”; tickets went on sale Sunday. Box office opens in August.

Jackman now is filming “Van Helsing.” His asking price reportedly is $8 million a picture, but he has signed on to “Boy” for a full year, and his take there is likely to be significantly less — in the range of $2.5 million-$3 million.

More hours, more Hugh

Jackman has his work cut out for him at this year’s Tonys. CBS has expanded its portion of the awards telecast from two to three hours. For the past six years, PBS had broadcast the first hour, which covered 10 awards, most in technical categories such as lighting and sound design.

Even before CBS announced Jackman’s participation, the network remained bullish on the low-rated but so-called class act of the award shows.

“The Tonys skew above the national average in all the key categories, which is why it is appealing to advertisers,” said Jack Sussman, CBS’ senior vice president in charge of specials.

As for CBS’ switch to three hours, Sussman said the net’s commitment would “allow the show to breathe.” In the past, the telecast often has appeared rushed, with speeches cut short and musical numbers dumped together at the last minute to make the 11 p.m. cutoff.

Sussman did not promise that the new three-hour format would guarantee airtime for every award category. Only one thing is certain: Viewers will get to see a lot of Jackman.

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