I have played the part of a screaming fan girl only twice in my 54 years.
The first time, I was a quivering 14-year-old chaperoned by my father at a Beatles concert in 1964. A dog-eared photo taken by a friend caught me at the height of my reverie as tears fell onto the Peter Pan collar of my madras blouse. My father’s face is frozen in the same stunned expression immortalized by the actor Paul Lynde as he watched a bevy of Sweetwater, Ohio, teens come under the thrall of the twitching, swivel-hipped Elvis Presley–inspired Conrad Birdie character in the musical Bye, Bye Birdie.
The last time was watching Hugh Jackman as he ended his triumphant Broadway run playing the late Australian entertainer Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. In all, I saw the show 12 times—once for every month it played—always with a friend or two. And at every show, we were gleefully caught up in the kind of crowd hysteria usually reserved for an end-of-season shoe sale at Barneys.
Who would’ve guessed that otherwise sophisticated, professional women could resurrect the giddy bliss of sharing an innocent crush perched on the edge of our orchestra seats? Or imagined that our homage to Mr. Jackman, the consummate matinee idol, would morph into a midlife sisterhood experience reminiscent of those long-gone days when we pored furtively over Our Bodies, Ourselves? But that’s exactly what happened.
I saw Oz for the first time with my friend Abby, a real-estate executive. We left behind our husbands, who would rather see Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr sparring in Copenhagen. And somewhere between the cell-phone warning and the intermission, we became part of the cacophony of catcalls and screams that erupted every time Mr. Jackman finished one of Allen’s treacly greatest hits. Not one but two standing ovations later, Abby and I were making plans for our own encore.
Next I saw Oz with my friend Judy, a financial manager, who brought her friend Barbara, a psychologist. I took my 17-year-old daughter, who swooned over Mr. Jackman but was horrified when I suggested we join the throngs of stage-door Janies waiting for him. (“Fan girl,” she hissed derisively, pulling me away.)
Our self-styled fan club doted on the inestimable Mr. Jackman. We swapped showbiz-gossip e-mails and taped his Inside the Actors Studio appearance. We shared the DVD of his star turn in Oklahoma and TiVo’d his talk-show guest shots promoting his new movie, Van Helsing. We rhapsodized when he hosted this year’s Tony Awards and had a collective meltdown when he thanked his wife (before his agents) after clinching the Best Actor in a Musical honors. We even ventured onto the official Oz Web site, where self-styled “Ozalots” chronicled everything from Mr. Jackman’s vacation dates to his favorite autograph pen (Sharpie). All that was missing was our AARP group-rate subscription to the menopausal equivalent of Tiger Beat magazine.
Even veteran celeb-watchers were not immune to Mr. Jackman’s not-the-boy-next-door charisma. Columnist Liz Smith gushed that she had seen Oz multiple times, and Diane Sawyer openly fawned during her Good Morning America interview with Mr. Jackman. Barbara Walters was rewarded for plugging Oz repeatedly on The View when Mr. Jackman (along with audience-recruit actor Matt Damon) treated her to an onstage lap dance at the Oz final performance.
Meanwhile, I shamelessly called on every connection I had to finagle a backstage pass to meet Mr. Jackman. In preparation for the big day, I went into training like a bride headed to the altar. As I left for the theater, my husband (who hadn’t seen my legs in a decade) shot a knowing smile in the direction of the Manolo Blahnik stilettos I’d excavated from my closet.
In retrospect, meeting Mr. Jackman was not the high point of my year as a middle-aged fan girl. Yes, he was exceedingly gracious, even though I babbled nervously like I was being paid by the word. But the truth is, our meeting wasn’t nearly as magical as the camaraderie savored in the anonymity of the darkened theater, nor as enduring as the friends—old and newly made—who’d been there with me. (Besides, it’s true what they say: He was taller onstage.)
When the rumor mill started spitting out candidates to replace Mr. Jackman at the end of his contract, my Oz buddies and I shook our heads knowingly. Wisely, the producers decided that the show could not go on without him.
Starting soon, a whole new crop of great actors is poised to hit the Broadway boards: James Naughton, Richard Thomas, Liev Schreiber …. And although I suspect that my days as a fan girl are over for now, I just may take the Manolo Blahniks out for another spin.
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