LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Broadway and big-screen
star Hugh Jackman, the first non-comedian to host the Oscars in
more than two decades, opened the Academy Awards broadcast
Sunday with musical tribute spoofing this year's crop of film
The original song-and-dance number put Jackson's talents as
a musical performer to the test as he lampooned all five of the
films vying for best picture in short succession -- "Slumdog
Millionaire," "Milk," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,"
"Frost/Nixon" and "The Reader."
"I haven't seen 'The Reader.' I was going to see it later,
but I fell behind," he sang, referring to that Holocaust-themed
film's status as a must-see movie largely ignored by mainstream
audiences. "I know I need to see 'The Reader.' I went down to
the theater, but there was a line."
Midway through the number, Jackman strode to the front-row
of the Kodak Theatre, picked up best actress nominee Anne
Hathaway in his arms, and carried her to the stage to join him
in a duet paying homage to "Frost/Nixon."
The song-and-dance number went over big with the crowd of
Oscar attendees, drawing a standing ovation from the stars.
While Oscar producers promised a departure from the usual
format in this year's show, Jackman's turn as emcee was not
without the kind of banter and jokes that might have been
delivered by his long line of comic predecessors.
Approaching best actor nominee Mickey Rourke, "The
Wrestler" star known for rambling media interviews laced with
four-letter words, Jackman told him: "You say whatever's on
your mind. We have a seven-second (broadcast) delay. But if you
win, we switch to a 20-minute delay."
To Hollywood glamour Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,
nominated for their respective roles in "Benjamin Button" and
"Changeling," Jackman said: "I actually don't have a joke for
them. I'm just contractually obligated to mention them at least
five times during the show."
It was a not-so-sly allusion to Jolie's reputation for
shrewd manipulation of the celebrity-starved media, but got a
chuckle from the pair nevertheless.
He even poked a bit of fun at Meryl Streep, who earned a
record 15th career nomination for her work in "Doubt," a film
about unproven accusations.
"I hate to say it but when someone puts up numbers like
that, it's just hard not to think: steroids."
But Jackman's first joke of the night came at his own
expense, and that of his home country of national rival as he
observed that he is an Australian playing an Australian
character in his latest film, "Australia."
"Because of the recession, everything is being downsized,"
he said, deadpanning that, "Next year, I'll be starring in a
movie called 'New Zealand."'
But Jackman returned to his Broadway roots at mid-show,
taking the stage in top hat and tails for a song-and-dance
number saluting Hollywood musicals, along with singer-actress
Oscar organizers turned to Jackman, 40, as part of their
bid to give a new look and feel to a live telecast that, like
many awards shows, has slumped in the ratings in recent years.
The Tony Award-winning musical stage actor and film star
best known on the big screen for his mutant superhero role as
Wolverine in the "X-Men" movies is the first non-comedian to
serve as solo Oscar host since the late Jack Lemmon in 1985.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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