Liz Smith: Hugh Jackman — The Great White Way’s Hottest Star — By Far!

And more from our Gossip Girl: Holland Taylor approaches Broadway with her one-woman dazzler, “An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards”

“WHAT about the language problem?” said someone to the Italian director Vittorio De Sica, long ago after he produced the black-and-white hit “Bicycle Thieves.”

De Sica: “That does not matter much, nor if they can act or not. I can make them do what I need if only I have a ‘face’ to work with — that is what counts!”

So much for acting talent!

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Sometimes we get a happy surprise … like getting rid of Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy to run the Academy Awards in 2012. And then having the desired ones — the unique Billy Crystal and the very positive producer, Brian Grazer, stepping in to save the day. (They were the ones most everybody realized they wanted anyway.)

When I say “everyone” — I do mean thinking souls. I see a few people grousing that Billy Crystal means nothing to the desired youthfully demographic audience because he is 63 years old. Pul-eeze!

My own young audience of pre-adolescents and teenagers loves the Oscar night, no matter who appears. They just thrive on whatever they see on TV. Usually they haven’t even seen the nominees. They love all the sheer competition. So they vote in private parties, even though they haven’t seen many of the movies and have just absorbed the publicity. (On short films, and many other categories, they are just “guessing” — the same as most of their elders.) I have never been to a bad Oscar party since I started going to ones with children. Lots of begging goes on to stay up “to the end.” Maybe these kids will grow into the desired demographic.

Billy Crystal will be great, as always. Only a fool will be worrying about his age. He will do his “Hollywood inside baseball stuff,” aimed at legends like Jack Nicholson, and he will be very funny. I can’t wait!

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IN REGARD to opening night with the world’s latest Broadway-movie heartthrob, Hugh Jackman, I was warned beforehand, in person, by the likes of Anna Wintour, Rex Reed, and Donna Karan (I guess they’d all seen the show in Toronto) that sitting on the aisle was dangerous. But, fortunately, my good friend, the genial philanthropist Herb Siegel, was sitting a few rows ahead of me — so he and his attractive wife Jeannne got all the attention: kissing, kidding and hustling from the on and offstage star. The latter made friend Herb go up onstage and jig around with two of his chorus girls while the star sat with Jeanne. Fortunately, Herb has actually “got rhythm” so that was fun and entertaining.

This is an irresistible evening in live theater, music and dance — and the only drawback is the realization that this “hit” will last such a short time: through January 1. So it presents a challenge to everyone — the willing star, his producers, the public. While other shows struggle, here’s one where the hard-to-get tickets are being bootlegged like crazy. Shades of “The Book of Mormon.” But an almost unqualified hit, it is!

Here’s what I really liked — the older audience, thrilled with itself, acting like teenagers at a Beatle concert … the six chorus girls, some making their debut, just perfect … the good-natured star himself, behaving with understated modesty while showing us his wife, his son, his “Oklahoma!” self with curly hair … his buffed up “Wolverine” frightening image … the second act where the twinkly-eyed Jackman reverts to the gold-clad star of “The Boy from Oz,” singing all of the late Peter Allen’s wonderful songs and camping it up … the informal atmosphere with several “Oops!” moments.

This guy is a real star, sexy, sweet, and talented — a matinee idol for the 21st century but incredibly old-fashioned in his way. His heartfelt ending tribute with his Aboriginal friends, touting their much-abused culture, is charming. I feel lucky to have seen Hugh Jackman this time around. If I could encounter him personally, he would invariably compliment me on being the first to write winningly about his career! He’s a nice guy, that way.

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ONE ATTENDEE was Mary Rodgers Guettel, the former head of Juilliard and the talented creator of her own musical “Once Upon a Mattress.” I kidded her at intermission, saying that her famous father’s song “My Boy Bill,” had been first performed before she was even born! Mary protested, “No, Liz, it was done the opening night of ‘Carousel’ and I was already 12 years old and in the audience.” I stand corrected, but it was still great to see her there, years later.

I’d close by saying that “Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway” is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see something completely charming, satisfactory and fun. But I have a feeling, after his next “X-Man” movie and after he stars in the revival of “Les Miserables,” that he and his producers will be bringing him back to Broadway again — as himself! He’s BIG!

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P.S. Do take the time today to read Newsweek’s story about Emmy-winning actress Holland Taylor playing the late Governor Ann Richards as she is now doing on the Chicago Stage for a three-week run. You can even seen Holland turning into Ann via hair and makeup.

This is a one-woman effort which Miss Taylor dreamed up, wrote and produced all by herself. She’ll appear tonight on “The Rosie Show” on OWN. Then she goes to Washington D.C. in December at the Kennedy Center, opening next spring on Broadway.

Holland takes time from playing the sex-crazed mother in “Two and a Half Men.”

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