Nathan Lane — whose struggles with the exhausting nature of the lead role of Max Bialystock in The Producers have been well documented — has been diagnosed with a polyp on his left vocal cord. As reported by the New York Times and confirmed by the Barlow-Hartman press office, the ailment caused the actor to remove himself from the hit musical through the end of this week. Doctors have ordered him not to speak until his throat heals.
Spokesperson Barlow told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 2) that Lane would miss both shows Nov. 3, but there's no word on an official return date. "We expect him back as soon as he's able." As he's now done many times since the show's opening, Brad Oscar, who normally plays Franz, is playing Max until Lane returns, with Jim Borstelman taking on the Nazi role.
Because Lane has missed so many performances, rumors had sprung up that his weekly schedule would change from eight performances to six, but Barlow said he'd heard nothing about a modified schedule being created for the actor.
According to the Times, the polyp was found on Oct. 30. Since the show opened on Broadway last spring, Lane has occassionally missed performances. The musical requires him to be on stage much of the time, often yelling lines at the top of his voice as well as singing several songs, including the show-stopping comic aria "Betrayed."
"My understanding is this can turn into something very serious if it's not treated," Lane's publicist, Simon Halls told the Times. "There's no permanent damage, but it's in a serious enough place that he's got to take care of it. He doesn't want to blow his voice out at 45. He's got a lot of shows in front of him." Refunds or exchanges will be proffered to audiences who missed seeing Lane. Both Lane and co-star Matthew Broderick are contracted for the show through March 17. "An extension has been broached" for Lane, Barlow noted, "but nothing's confirmable at this point." He added that whatever Broderick's commitment to playing Harold Hill in an upcoming television version of The Music Man, the actor would not need to take an extended leave from The Producers to do so.
The producers of The Producers last week announced that sometime in November they will start setting aside fifty prime seats at every performance and charging $480 each.
The producers are charging by far the highest Broadway ticket price of all time for these seats, ostensibly to beat scalpers at their own game (and, perhaps, to make as much money on nights Nathan Lane is in the show as they can). Since the best orchestra and mezzanine seats to the show have long been sold out (in fact,all seats to The Producers are sold out through May), the only way for people to get them has been to go through ticket brokers and internet ticket sites. Those ducats often have whopping mark-ups, with the none of the extra money going to anyone connected with the show itself. By law, scalpers in New York State can take up to a 20 percent commission on a ticket sale (e.g., $120 for a $100 ticket) — but those rules don't apply to firms located outside New York.
"The scalpers and their profits serve no one but the scalpers," co-producer Rocco Landesman told the Times. "Those monies belong to the people who created the show, pure and simple."
The Times reports that plans for the ticket hike were well underway before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but delayed out of respect for the tragedy. As such, $150 of every $480 ticket sold over the next "several months" will be donated to the Twin Towers Fund.
The remaining seats to The Producers will stay at the same price, spokesperson Barlow told Playbill On-Line, with the lowest-priced ducats still at $30 and the weekly potential gross in the $1.2 million range.
Asked if the extra money made from raising ticket prices would make its way to labor unions (such as Actors' Equity and the Dramatists Guild) involved with the production, Barlow said that unions which benefit from the gross of the show will get "increased percentages" based on the new grosses. Actors' Equity Association spokesperson David Lotz elaborated, saying that "people tied in some way to the box office gross — such as directors, choreographers, playwrights — would be affected. Otherwise it doesn't affect [Equity] unless the show's stars have some kind of percentage deal, which we wouldn't be able to comment on. Also it does impact the pension fund. The higher ticket prices will increase monies paid into Equity and other unions' pension funds via the so-called `045 Tax,' which is a tax on the box office that gets diverted to the unions and pension funds. It's to our benefit. And if a lot more money is going into the producers' pockets, that's ultimately good for the industry, too."
For his part, Alan Eisenberg, executive director of Actors' Equity, sees the price hike as a red flag for future contract negotiations. "This proves that a great deal of the success of a Broadway musical is due to the actors," he said, "and there should be a complete reexamination of how our actors are paid."