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Hugh Jackman hosts the Oscars? Bring the smelling salts

December 12, 2008 |  1:51 pm

If only he’ll wear those gold lamé pants.

As word got out Friday that Hugh Jackman will be this year’s Oscar host, a clip from the 2004 Tony telecast of his performance from “The Boy From Oz” made the rounds. If you happened to miss the 2004 Tonys, Jackman, playing the flamboyant Australian songwriter Peter Allen, sang, danced and writhed his way across the stage in a leopard skin top and skin-tight gold lamé pants.

Will the Oscar gift baskets include smelling salts?

Jackman, who has hosted the Tonys several times and won an Emmy for doing so in 2005, certainly knows how to hold a stage — he won a Tony for “The Boy From Oz” — and by choosing him, first-time Oscar producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon are betting that Broadway can do what comedy could not.

Previous hosts — Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock — all followed the traditional stand-up model and the ratings have steadily soured. Obviously a change is required, and while I would lean toward thinking “television” rather than “Broadway” (why, I even wrote a piece about it, for this coming Sunday’s Calendar, before the host choice was announced), Jackman is, of course, another way to go.

Clearly Mark and Condon are less concerned with solving the ratings crisis as they are with creating a new vibe for the show. Jackman may have more talent in his little finger than most of us do in our entire bodies, but he doesn’t have the fan base of DeGeneres or Rock. If you are among the thousands who loved his hosting of the Tonys, you’re probably not only watching the Oscars anyway, you’re hosting your own annual Oscar party.

Yes, Jackman was just named People’s Sexiest Man alive, and yes, he is Wolverine of “The X-Men,” but do we want Wolverine hosting the Oscars? Probably not. Otherwise, Jackman’s movie career has been less than memorable, capped by this year’s box office dud “Australia.”  And as last season’s mercifully short-lived “Viva Laughlin” proved, one talented person does not a television show make. Or at least not a good television show.

But Mark and Condon are the team that brought us “Dreamgirls,” which actually makes Jackman an obvious choice. There’s nothing wrong with a big Broadway-esque opener similar to Billy Crystal’s famous musical clips but with more hip action. Beyond that, however, it gets a little worrisome. The Oscars has a prickly relationship with singin’ and dancin’ and as anyone who saw Rosie O’Donnell’s recent disaster knows, nothing fails bigger than a failed variety show.

What Jackman does have in his favor is an unapologetic, unabashed love for, and understanding of, theater. He isn’t snarky and he isn’t an outsider. He is a from-the-bottom-of-his-heart performer who seems utterly happy and at ease in front of an audience.

No doubt those in the Kodak will enjoy an energetic and dazzling evening. How it will play on television remains to be seen.

But maybe it’s time we stopped caring about that so much.

-- Mary McNamara

Over in his Big Picture blog, my colleague Patrick Goldstein has a different opinion.

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