Character Actor Stadlen Bites Into Bialy in Bway's Producers April 29

News   Character Actor Stadlen Bites Into Bialy in Bway's Producers April 29 Lewis Stadlen, the respected Broadway character actor who knows a thing or two about comedy, having playing Neil Simon, Guys and Dolls and Groucho Marx in the past, joins Broadway's The Producers — as Max Bialystock — April 29.

Lewis Stadlen (L) with Don Stephenson in the national tour of The Producers.
Lewis Stadlen (L) with Don Stephenson in the national tour of The Producers. (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

Stadlen appeared in Simon's 45 Seconds From Broadway and Laughter on the 23rd Floor, toured as Nathan Detroit in Jerry Zaks' Guys and Dolls and was the most famous Marx brother in the cult-fave musical, Minnie's Boys. He also spent the last seven months as the bigger-than-life Max Bialystock, one of the men of the title, in the first national tour of The Producers.

Instead of sitting Stadlen down in Los Angeles with his touring troupe, the producers of the Mel Brooks smash invited the actor to Broadway, to replace Brad Oscar, who now leap-frogs into the lead of the second national tour. Stadlen's cohort at the St. James Theatre for a month (to May 18) is Roger Bart, who plays nebbishy producer Leo Bloom. Don Stephenson, the Leo of Stadlen's touring company, reunites with his pal May 20.

Meanwhile, their first national tour, which launched in September 2002, begins an eight-month run at L.A.'s Pantages Theatre May 2, with Jason Alexander and Martin Short taking over as Max and Leo.

The Producers swept the 2001 Tony Awards, receiving the most awards in Broadway history, including Best Musical , Best Book of a Musical (Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan), Best Original Score (Mel Brooks), Best Scenic Design (Robin Wagner), Best Costume Design (William Ivey Long), Best Lighting Design (Peter Kaczorowski), Best Orchestrations (Doug Besterman), Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical (Susan Stroman).

The Broadway cast now includes John Treacy Eagan as Roger DeBris, Brad Musgrove as Carmen Ghia, Peter Samuel as Franz Liebkind and Tony Award-winner Cady Huffman as Ulla. *

Based on his credits, there's a bigger-than-life quality to the roles for which Stadlen is best known — Roundabout's Man Who Came to Dinner; Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor; Hal Prince's 1974 staging of Candide. Blowsy Max Bialystock is in that tradition. Has Stadlen done classical theatre?

"Yeah, I have," Stadlen told Playbill On-Line in fall 2002, when the Producers tour was in rehearsal. "But even the classical stuff is 'big.' I would say the quietest role I've played is Trigorin in The Seagull, which I did at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival. I've done a lot of Brecht. The thing that I was taught and one of the things that I think is somewhat deficient in theatre today as compared to when I was growing up, is actors performed with size. And I don't mean that what they did was necessarily over the top. My teacher, Stella Adler, taught us that anybody can be real, but not everybody can be interesting. What attracted me to the theatre was it elevated people's perceptions about feelings and ideas, so that's the way I approach the work. An actor gets known for something. I'm 55 years old. I guess I'm one of the few people who knows how to do a certain style."

Stadlen added, "My father, who was an actor by the name of Allen Swift, he weaned me on movies, on Jimmy Cagney, an American style. I identified with a kind of Depression-era style. Once again, to harken back to that word, 'size.' It was about people being positive in the face of adversity. About fulfilling needs. What I've found is that I've become kind of an amalgam of all the performers that I watched, who influenced me, as a child. There's no one I like better than Walter Huston or Frank Morgan or Bob Hope. So what I do, and what Nathan Lane does, is — we steal. We're not so artful in our mimicry that it doesn't become us."