- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

NEW YORK — Goodbye to Broadway's original Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom. After nearly a year's run, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick left "The Producers" on Sunday, turning over the starring roles in Broadway's biggest hit in years to English actor Henry Goodman and television star Steven Weber.

The Mel Brooks musical, based on his 1968 film about two rapscallion Broadway producers who bilk investors out of their money by putting on a musical about Adolf Hitler, won't have to worry about sagging ticket sales. The show, which won a record 12 Tony Awards last June, is pretty much sold out for months to come.

The enthusiastic crowd at Sunday's matinee, which included Mr. Broderick's wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, began standing and cheering even before the final curtain came down. After a teary Mr. Lane and Mr. Broderick took their bows, Mr. Brooks and director-choreographer Susan Stroman came onstage and presented their stars with bouquets of red roses.

"We wanted to thank you for making us laugh for an entire year," Miss Stroman said as she wished them well "on your new adventures."

"But when you are done with those film and TV folks," she added, "you need to come back."

Mr. Brooks yelled out, "Ditto." The two actors didn't speak.

Mr. Lane collected a Tony for his portrayal of Bialystock, the role originated in the movie by Zero Mostel, and Mr. Broderick was Bloom, the hapless accountant played by Gene Wilder in the film.

Both roles are difficult and demanding, particularly Mr. Lane's, which required him in the second act to recapitulate the entire plot in one five-minute musical number that usually stopped the show.

During his run, Mr. Lane was plagued by a polyp on his left vocal cord that forced him to scale back his schedule to six performances a week.

The original supporting cast members, including Tony winners Gary Beach and Cady Huffman, are staying in the show. Both Mr. Goodman, who starred in the London revival of "Chicago," and Mr. Weber, best known from the TV show "Wings," have nine-month contracts. They start Tuesday.

Mr. Lane and Mr. Broderick considered remaining in the musical but eventually decided against it. Still, they have left the door open to return to "The Producers" either in New York or in another production, the New York Times reported Sunday.

It will still be here. Not since "Cats" in 1982 and, 15 years later, "The Lion King" in 1997, has a show proved to be such an audience favorite and such a difficult ticket to snare. The day after the musical opened in April 2001 to rave reviews, the producers of "The Producers" raised ticket prices to $100. It didn't deter would-be tickets buyers who queued daily for cancellations and returns.

In October, the producers formed a company called Broadway Inner Circle to sell several rows of premium orchestra seats for $480 each in the hopes of outwitting scalpers. The price increase pushed weekly grosses past $1.2 million and helped the $10 million musical pay back its production costs in less than a year, rare for a big musical.

Mr. Lane and Mr. Broderick will not be idle for long.

Mr. Lane will try his luck again on television with a new CBS series, "Life of the Party." His last TV effort, a comedy called "Encore, Encore," set in the California wine country, lasted only a few weeks on NBC in 1998 despite the valiant efforts of Mr. Lane and a cast that included such theater veterans as Joan Plowright and Glenne Headly.

Mr. Broderick also will segue into television. He will star for ABC in a TV version of "The Music Man," playing another charlatan of sorts, Professor Harold Hill, reportedly opposite Kristin Chenoweth as Marian the librarian.

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