by Claire Prentice
BBC News reporter
The actors play two Chicago policemen
Even by New York standards, it was a starry occasion: Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, two of Hollywood's hottest talents, appearing on a Broadway stage together.
The duo, best-known for their movie roles as James Bond and the mutant Wolverine from X-Men, are starring in A Steady Rain, a gritty two-hander about the friendship between a pair of cops.
The crowds started gathering outside the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre several hours before the curtain was due to rise. When it did, the two actors had to wait several minutes for the cheers and wolf whistles to die down before they could begin their performance.
Adopting convincing Chicago accents, Australian Jackman and Englishman Craig play childhood friends whose lives are changed forever by a tragic sequence of events.
Jackman plays Denny, a bullish Italian-American family man. Sporting a handlebar moustache, Craig was a world away from his sexy James Bond persona as Joey, Denny's police partner.
The audience lapped it up as the two actors delivered one funny line after another from the start of Keith Huff's 2006 play. But the atmosphere quickly darkened as the two cops took turns telling their version of the events that lead to the fracturing of their friendship.
For the next 90 minutes, Jackman and Craig took the audience on a compelling, fast-paced ride through the Chicago streets, without breaking for an interval.
It is understood Bond star Craig turned down films for the play
The audience, rooting for two flawed but believable heroes, gasped and groaned as the cops faced temptations and tough choices. The two actors had a natural rapport and shared the spotlight.
To help the actors develop a bond, director John Crowley reportedly installed a ping-pong table backstage in the theatre so they could play during breaks from rehearsals.
The audience had travelled from all over America and beyond for the chance to see two of the world's most popular movie stars up close. They were not disappointed.
Some did not have tickets but had come prepared to pay well over the odds for a seat at the sold-out show, with tickets priced from $66.50-$140 (£42 - £88).
Others were content to wait outside on the pavement, hoping for a glimpse of the actors when they left the theatre after the performance.
The audience included many theatre-goers who usually opt for splashy musicals over serious drama. Judi Rae had travelled from California. She said: "I had no idea what the play was about. I'm here to see Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig."
"Funny and heartbreaking"
A Steady Rain marks Craig's Broadway debut. A seasoned theatre performer, Jackman has appeared on Broadway once before, in a production of The Boy From Oz which won him rave reviews in 2004.
Theatre sources say Craig and Jackman could set a new Broadway box office record for a non-musical. They have to beat Julia Roberts, who sold more than $10m worth of tickets in 12 weeks in the play Three Days of Rain in 2006.
The buzz generated by previews of A Steady Rain suggests the predictions may well come true. When the curtain came down, the actors received a standing ovation for their raw, emotionally charged performances.
Jackman won a Tony award for The Boy From Oz
Theatre-goer Pete Ruben summed up the sentiment of many. He said: "I came because I wanted to see two famous Hollywood actors in person and I was blown away. These guys can really act."
Shari Kaplan added: "They both exceeded expectations; their performances were outstanding - nuanced, funny and heartbreaking."
Craig and Jackman are said to have turned down film roles to do A Steady Rain, which is scheduled to run until 6 December.
The producers of the play, who include James Bond movie producer Barbara Broccoli, have reportedly bought the film rights though neither actor has yet signed on for that project.
Jackman and Craig are among a host of high profile film stars appearing on Broadway this year, many of them British. They include Catherine Zeta Jones, Sienna Miller, Jonny Lee Miller and Jude Law.
Law is currently appearing as Hamlet in a production which transferred from London's Donmar Warehouse.
The official run of A Steady Rain begins on Tuesday 29 September, after a fortnight of previews.
The first week of preview performances took A Steady Rain into the top three at Broadway's box office, grossing $1,167,954. Only Wicked and Billy Elliot scored higher.