'The Producers' Redux Don't Look for Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick When Their Broadway Smash Returns Next Week. This Version Attempts to Recapture the Magic without Star Power
Reese, Joel, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Joel Reese Daily Herald Staff Writer
The new Mel Brooks musical
Where: Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago
When: Oct. 14 through Nov. 30
Tickets: $37 to $82, available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (call (312) 902-1400), or through Ticketmaster, (312) 559- 1212 or ticketmaster.com.
"The Producers" is coming back to Chicago, but it's kind of a good news/bad news proposition.
Let's start with the good news.
Starting Tuesday, Chicago will be graced by the same play that opened at the city's Cadillac Palace Theatre in 2001 and went on to win a truckload of Tony Awards (including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Score, Best Director and Best Leading Actor categories).
Now for the bad news: Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are nowhere to be found. The two actors who began as the hilariously misguided duo of Bialystock and Bloom have left the production and moved on with their careers.
Instead, audiences will find the Brad Oscar and Andy Taylor playing the lead roles.
Brad and Andy who?
Isn't "The Producers" without Lane and Broderick like the Captain without Tennille? Peanut butter without jelly? Homer Simpson without the comb-over?
No, insists the legendary Mel Brooks, who wrote the tale about two men who produce the play "Springtime for Hitler" in the hopes that it will bomb - only to see it become a hit.
"We're very happy with both of them - Brad is absolutely wonderful, and Andy is just terrific," the gregarious Brooks said at the show's Boston opening in July. "People are going to just love them."
Others aren't quite so sure.
"'The Producers' is a star-vehicle show, and you need someone with a lot of charisma and star power in both roles," says Rick Boynton, artistic director for the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire. "I hear Brad Oscar is wonderful, but my parents don't know who Brad Oscar is. They certainly know who Nathan Lane is."
Changing from Lane
Before show-goers sprint downtown to return their tickets, we should note that this isn't such a rare occurrence. The road version of a play often features lesser-known actors than the Broadway edition.
But some shows, such as "Funny Girl" with Barbra Streisand or "Hello, Dolly" with Carol Channing, were so inextricably linked to the stars that it became almost impossible for anyone else to play those roles.
Such a fate could await Oscar and Taylor, says New York theater writer Bob Johnson.
"With Lane and Broderick gone, the show's producers are left selling 'The Producers' on its own merits, which is fine," Johnson says. "But I bet money that what people remember about 'The Producers' is that it's Nathan and Matthew's show, not Mel's."
Lane casts an especially long shadow, Boynton of Lincolnshire says.
"It's going to be hard for Brad Oscar. Nathan Lane is a really tough act to follow," he says.
Even finding these two wasn't easy - British stage star Henry Goodman, the initial replacement for Lane, was axed after just a few weeks of previews.
Physically, Oscar certainly possesses all the requisite Bialystock characteristics: the easily bugged eyes, the bulky body and the larger-than-life stage presence.
But it's a tough task, following in Lane's footstep. Oscar's big test comes with "Betrayed," Bialystock's song from prison that recaps the play and traces his journey to the big house, while Bloom is in Rio with the leggy Swede, Ulla.
Although he claims the role for his own early in the show, Oscar cements his star status with this show-stopper.
He commands the stage with authority during the big number, drawing huge laughs with Brooks' lyrics, "Like Samson and Delilah, your love began to fade/I'm crying in the hoosegow, you're in Rio getting laid! …