By Stephen M. Silverman
October 17, 2003 10:45 AM

Hunky Hugh Jackman, whose mere presence as the lead in “The Boy from Oz,” helped generate a $10 million box-office advance for the new musical, opened on Broadway Thursday night.

The critics collectively adored him as the late Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen. And, just as collectively, they scorned the material he’s saddled with.

“Let’s make this simple,” writes Clive Barnes in the Post. “The show’s plus is its superstar. The show’s minus is the show itself.”

“As a show, ‘The Boy From Oz’ sometimes seems like an expanded drag act,” writes Howard Kissel in the News, while the headline on Michael Kuchwara’s Associated Press story bluntly states, “Hugh Jackman Can’t Save ‘Boy From Oz.'”

As for The New York Times, generally considered to be the final word on theater, critic Ben Brantley, in his review, ponders how an “able-bodied, infinitely appealing young man” like the “X-Men” star can bear to carry the “burden” of such an “indisputably bogus” and “pathetic” show as “Oz.”

“Don’t even get me started on the aspiring clever double entendres that pass for sophisticated dialogue,” Brantley says of Martin Sherman’s book, which, the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout considers “the theatrical equivalent of a cheesy TV movie.” (Teachout does concede that his female friends consider Jackman “babelicious.”)

The Washington Post’s Peter Marks thinks the entire endeavor just should have been called “Hugh Jackman’s Chest Hair! The Musical.”

Before the opening, Jackman, 34, told Show People magazine (no relation to PEOPLE): “Peter is an amazing part. He was cheeky, and could be catty and nasty. He slept with women and men, whomever, whenever. … Everything about him was ‘aahhhh.'”

How the critical reaction will ultimately affect “The Boy from Oz” remains to be seen. Traditionally, when a star of Jackman’s magnitude leaves a weak show (a classic example is “Coco,” which starred Katharine Hepburn in 1970, since really big movie marquee names rarely go to Broadway), the closing notice promptly goes up.

Jackman is reportedly committed to “Oz” for one year.

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