The worst kept secret in casting this year was confirmed this week by the producers of the national tour of The Producers: Lewis J. Stadlen and Don Stephenson will play Max and Leo, respectively, in the tour of the smash musical beginning Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh.
The announcement allowed one to contemplate whether there is any better guarantor of acting employment in today's theatre than being a pal of Nathan Lane. This is to say nothing against Mr. Stadlen's ability as a performer. A skilled funnyman, he had a thriving career on stage, film and television long before Lane emerged as a power in Times Square. He starred in such Broadway shows as The Sunshine Boys and Candide, even copping a Tony nomination for the latter. And there is, of course, no direct evidence that Stadlen has won any of his recent assignments because of a friendship with the original Max Bialystock.
Yet, the circumstantial evidence is there. Stadlen and Lane first shared a Broadway stage in Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor. The revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum followed soon after. Then came Off-Broadway's Mizlansky/Zilinsky (Lane was Miz, Stadlen was Zil) and the Roundabout Theatre Company's The Man Who Came to Dinner, in which, as Banjo, Stadlen got some of the best reviews in the show. And now, Stadlen has inherited the role his colleague made famous on Broadway. Surely, no actor has benefitted more from knowing Nathan as much as Lewis.
Unless it's Ernie Sabella, another character actor whose career path often parallels Lane's. Again, Sabella is talented and managed quite well enough years before co-starring with Lane in Guys and Dolls. Still, his performance as Harry the Horse in that revival altered his fortunes. He went on to play Pumbaa the Warthog to Lane's Timon the Meerkat in Disney's The Lion King and its many sequels. He co-starred with his pal in the short-lived sitcom "Encore! Encore!" and locked arms with both Lane and Stadlen in Forum. The squat, barrel-chested Sabella doesn't necessarily strike one as a natural Max. But given the hit that show has become and how long it is likely to run, I wouldn't bet against seeing Ernie in the show somewhere down the road. Perhaps as Franz, the Nazi playwright. For the time being, however, he's got a good gig playing Sancho in this fall's Man of La Mancha on Broadway.
In was a quiet week in the theatre, given the national holiday and all. However, a few things were working. Sam Harris gave his first performances as Carmen Ghia in Broadway's Producers. Proof got a new cast, consisting of Anne Heche, Len Cariou, Neil Patrick Harris and Kate Jennings Grant. Heche lasted one performance because falling prey to the flu. She was due back by July 5. Bombay Dreams's future on Broadway seemed more assured. The new Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced musical will probably bow in New York in late 2003, according to The Really Useful Company's spokesperson Peter Brown. Finally, it seems Actors' Equity successfully fought for basic salary increases in the recent League of Resident Theatres (LORT) contract negotiations. In doing so, however, it may have doomed a revival of Our Town by Roundabout Theatre Company, one of the largest LORT theatres in the U.S. "There's a 50-50 chance we won't do it," Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes told Variety. "We're looking at the budget for next year and we may not be able to afford it." The trade daily reported that LORT's minimum weekly salary for actors has gone up from $728 to $1,000. Equity has not confirmed these numbers. Haimes said the new contract would add $1.2 million to the 2002-03 line up. "We can't do the same size productions as we did in the past, which for a theatre like ours that does classics is a problem," Haimes continued. "There are few other places to cut than the size of the production." So, let's get this straight. Actors will make more money, but they'll be fewer jobs for them. Somebody call me when it starts making sense.
—By Robert Simonson