Nathan Lane: He's Everywhere -- So Why Doesn't Anyone Know?

Article excerpt

`WADDAYA have to do?" wails Nathan Lane, sounding remarkably like Timon, the irascible meerkat from "The Lion King," the film role for which he's still most widely known.

What has him spluttering is a recent New York Times feature bemoaning how Broadway musicals no longer launch stars. Yet the story barely mentioned Lane, one of the few stage performers whose face alone can sell tickets.

After an acclaimed performance in "Guys and Dolls," the actor has gone on to Broadway successes in Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" and the Tony Award-winning comedy "Love! Valour! Compassion!"

"They run the ad for the revival of `A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' in the Times with me above the title, and they still think I don't fit the bill?" he says, warming to his topic. "I mean, jeez."

This spring, Lane should be getting more attention - finally. On Sunday, he stars in "The Boys Next Door" (reviewed above), a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production on CBS about the mentally challenged denizens of a group home.

March will bring the big-screen movie "The Birdcage," Mike Nichols' remake of the French drag farce "La Cage aux Folles," starring Lane and Robin Williams.

And in April, he returns to Broadway in the revival of "Forum" - in the scheming-Roman-slave role that Zero Mostel made famous. The Stephen Sondheim musical classic reunites him with "Guys and Dolls" director Jerry Zaks and co-star Ernie Sabella, who also was his animated warthog sidekick in "The Lion King."

Often compared to Jackie Gleason or Lou Costello, Lane has developed his own specialty - "the screaming, neurotic but lovable friend who's near suicide," as he puts it - and sometimes seems to live it. The character is drawn from the opera queen he played in "The Lisbon Traviata." It's the character that McNally wrote for Lane in the film version of "Frankie and Johnny," as well as the celebrated role he played in "Love! …

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