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Matinees With Nathan?

An update on Nathan Lane's absence from matinees of The Producers, and some musings on how his vocal problems might or might not affect the show's mega-hit status.

By New York City

Nathan Lane at the 2001 Tony nominees? brunch(Photo: Michael Portantiere)
Nathan Lane at the 2001 Tony nominees? brunch
(Photo: Michael Portantiere)
As of this writing, and barring an announcement to the contrary, Nathan Lane is scheduled to return to an eight-performance-a-week schedule in The Producers as of Tuesday, November 20. Reportedly plagued by a polyp on one of his vocal cords, Lane has been yielding his Tony Award winning role of Max Bialystock to his understudy, Brad Oscar, at matinee performances this week and last week. Oscar normally plays the supporting role of Franz Liebkind in the smash-hit Mel Brooks-Thomas Meehan musical; he received a Tony nomination for his performance but the award went to his Producers co-star Gary Beach.

"Nathan has been doing six shows a week for a couple of weeks, taking the matinees off in an effort to try to bring everything back to a completely healthy place," says Simon Halls, Lane's personal publicist. "He needs to be on vocal rest. He's just trying to heal his voice. They're going to revisit his vocal health at the end of the two-week period and, if all systems are go--which everybody's fingers are crossed on--he'll be back to eight shows a week. We'll make an announcement. Nathan has been doing [Broadway shows] for a long time and he's very much of the old school that says 'If I'm hired to do eight shows a week, then I want to do eight shows a week.' He's a complete professional."

Bill Coyle of the public relations firm Barlow ? Hartman, which represents the producers, said that "As of now, [Nathan] should be back to the regular performing schedule beginning next week." Asked if it was unusual that a performer with a polyp on his vocal cord should have continued to give even six performances a week of a strenuous leading role in a Broadway show, Coyle replied: "Apparently, his doctors felt he could work through it, or he wouldn't be working through it."

Lane's absences from The Producers--he missed a considerable number of performances before his current hiatus from matinees, over and above a one-week vacation--raise some interesting questions about the future of the show, especially at a time when its producers have just begun to set aside 50 prime orchestra seats at each performance for sale at the previously unheard of price of $480 per ticket. Though some disappointed patrons confronted with Lane-less performances of The Producers have asked for refunds or exchanges, word is that all of those tickets have been immediately snapped up by people who were waiting for cancellations and returns and were only too happy to see the show with Brad Oscar as Bialystock. According to Bill Coyle, "We've been sold out at every performance, even at the matinees when [Nathan] hasn't been there."

Madeleine Doherty and Nathan Lanein The Producers(Photo: Paul Kolnik)
Madeleine Doherty and Nathan Lane
in The Producers
(Photo: Paul Kolnik)
After it was announced that Lane would be taking off two weeks' worth of matinees, some critics chose to return to the show to assess Oscar's performance--even though they were not given press comps. "Brad Oscar as the lovably rascally Max Bialystock--the role first made famous by the immortal Zero Mostel in Brooks' original movie--attempts neither an imitation of Mostel nor Lane," wrote Clive Barnes in the New York Post. "Both of those--Legend 1 and Legend 1A--personified the character of Bialystock, that creative producer who first realized that if on a one-night Broadway flop you spend less of the backers' money than you raised, the difference is profit as black as driven slush. Oscar, unlike his predecessors, is less of what the French call a monstre sacrée and more a manipulative scoundrel, more credible but perhaps less remarkable. Yet he has undoubtedly made the role totally his own, sings most handsomely, and where he scores handily over Lane is in substituting acting for mannerism."

Given that Oscar's performance has been applauded by critics and audiences, and that the box-office take of The Producers has not yet suffered due to his subbing for Lane, one has to wonder: Would the show continue to flourish if Lane had to stick to a reduced schedule of performances indefinitely or had to leave the show entirely? "Basically, all we're trying to do is help the man heal his voice," says Bill Coyle. "We're not making projections about what this means in the long run."


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