The actor, who created the role of Franz Liebkind to Tony-nominated effect in the acclaimed Mel Brooks musical, had the gargantuan task of replacing Tony winner Nathan Lane in the role of that producer-of-producers, Max Bialystock. Oscar, however, rose to the challenge and triumphed. Not only did he score raves for his work as Max in the national tour of the musical, but he is now back at Broadway at the St. James, co-starring opposite Hunter Foster's Leo Bloom. Oscar, whose other Broadway credits include Jekyll & Hyde and Aspects of Love, has managed to make the role of Max his own, and audiences are currently delighting in his zany comedic antics and his powerful vocals. The affable actor recently chatted with Playbill On-Line about his return to Broadway and one of the most demanding roles on The Great White Way.
Playbill On-Line: You've played Max on Broadway and then on tour. Does coming back to Broadway feel like coming home?
Brad Oscar: It does. It was nice to come back to the St. James. But it was great to be on the road. The best part about that was I got to have a real rehearsal process, which I never got to have as Max. When you're the understudy, of course, you have understudy rehearsals, but you're basically then just fitting into [what has already been created] . . . . But for the tour, being able to go into a studio with a new company and spend those six weeks just exploring it from the bottom up again, with a new Leo, was a really great experience, and I think it helped me to find my own Max. It sounds a little cheesy, but it's true [laughs], and [it got me] away from some of the ghosts of the enormous performance that preceded me.
PBOL: How did audiences on the road respond to The Producers? Did you find the response different to Broadway audiences?
BO: You know, it was very similar. There were some jokes, of course, that maybe didn't land as well as they did in New York, but then there were others that even landed a little better in a way. And, it's always random. Now that we're in our fourth year here, certainly the demographic of the audience changes. It's more tourist-based, it's perhaps not as much theatre people per se, so obviously certain things don't play like they played before. But that's the nature of live theatre, and it's exciting because it keeps it live. New things continue to develop, certainly with new people.
PBOL: And, you recently got a new co-star in Hunter Foster. Does that bring new life to the show?
BO: Totally. The nice thing about Hunter is that he has previously had no experience with the show. You had me and Roger Bart and even when Steven Weber came in, being the first replacement, he had been watching the show, and we were all influenced by the original things or the original people. And, here's someone coming in three years later, who had seen the show, maybe once or twice, but all that stuff wasn't programmed in subliminally as it would be when you're involved in something. So, [Hunter is] just bringing a lot of new, fresh things to it. They're very good about that, the whole creative team, about letting people try their own stuff. It's been a great, interesting two weeks. It's settling in, and it's becoming its own thing now.
PBOL: How much are Susan Stroman and Mel Brooks involved in putting in a new person?
BO: They're pretty involved. This time, of course, Hunter's going in coincides with Stro being just a little involved up at Lincoln Center [with The Frogs], and that whole process is so huge, so we haven't actually seen Susan yet. I spoke to her last week, and of course she's thinking about us, but she has her plate pretty full. But once all that settles down, she'll be down to check it out and give us notes and work on stuff. But they've been pretty on top of it. PBOL: Yours is such a demanding role. How much of your daily life revolves around just preserving your voice and your energy to play Max?
BO: Most of it actually. It's nice because it has gotten easier over the years. You get it into your body, and there's so much muscle memory involved in doing anything eight times a week, and I've found the ways to make it easier vocally on myself. I also think psychologically I don't feel as much of a burden that I initially felt, the enormity of it. Still, if I stop to think about it, it's huge. I say, "Oh my God, I can't believe my name's above the title, and I'm doing this role." [Laughs.] It's everything I ever dreamed of and all that stuff. If you let all that well up, it's a lot. I feel that because I've done it so much — and, again, having that experience of being away from New York and away from that sort of microscope and being on the street and feeling like everybody's watching or interested — and going away and being in Boston was a really great thing, very freeing for me. And, now, coming back to New York, I'm bringing a lot of that back with me. The psychological aspect of all that has lessened, and I think that makes it easier for me physically as well.
PBOL: You've been doing the role for awhile. Is it still a thrill when you walk to the theatre and see your name?
BO: Yeah, I try not to ever take it for granted. . . . I've been doing it long enough to know — I've seen plenty of people come and go and do their thing and be so hot or so lucky or so fortunate or whatever. And this is what it is right now, so I'm trying to take full advantage of that and enjoy it and love it. But know that whenever it's time to move on, it'll be time to move on.
PBOL: Were you a fan of the film originally or of Zero Mostel's work?
BO: I mean, yeah, sure. I'd seen bits and pieces of the film years ago when I was younger. It wasn't until I actually was called in to audition that I really sat down and watched the film as an adult, real quick, just to see it and get as much of it in my head as I could. And, I had seen Zero Mostel in that Fiddler revival, '76 I think it was, when he was such a monster, God bless him. [Laughs.] I don't remember specifics, but I do remember I was with my parents, and often we talked about how he was just doing the craziest things. He was doing so much stuff that really had nothing to do with Fiddler on the Roof. But at that point, my God, it was his show, and he was the thing, and I guess nobody did it better. [Laughs.]
PBOL: You were also part of Forbidden Broadway for a long time. I often wonder what the chaos is like backstage.
BO: It's pretty crazy. It's as choreographed offstage as it is onstage. That was a ball. Of course, I never thought I'd work as hard again. [Laughs.] That was a fabulous experience. I really enjoyed it. It's so funny because initially when I went in to audition, it wasn't necessarily something I thought that I wanted to do. I had enjoyed the show on many occasions, but I just wasn't sure it was something that I was up for, and the show had been running so long . . . but I loved it, and I was working with some really great people. Obviously, it so depends on the other three people around you because you're all working together so hard. I had a great experience.
PBOL: Do you have any other projects in the works?
BO: At this point, I'm signed [with The Producers] through September, and then we'll see. I had done a workshop of this musical Cam Jansen with Theatreworks USA that Larry O'Keefe, who wrote Bat Boy, wrote. Larry and his wife wrote it. It's a children's musical, but what's great about it is it's not a children's musical in the traditional sense that we think of. It doesn't really talk down [to the audience]. It's a great story, and it's a great score, 'cause I think that Larry is one of the few composers currently that are working who can really bridge the gap between musical theatre and the more popular pop sound that everybody likes to go for today because they think it's going to be more appealing to a wider audience. But if you just right pop songs that have no dramatic integrity, you can't really have a good musical.
And Larry did it so brilliantly in Bat Boy. I think Larry — there's just the perfect bridge in his stuff between having the real dramatic integrity to tell a story and also have that pop sensibility that may have a broader appeal. I had a ball with that, and they're mounting it again in the fall. Sometimes Theatreworks mounts shows here for six weeks before they take them out on the road with the 18, 19-year-olds who will put it in a van and set it up at a school and knock it down and do it again. Theatreworks tours are crazy I hear. [Laughs.] I've never done one, but a lot of people get their Equity cards that way. But before it goes out, I guess, because they've continued to work on it, they're going to mount it in the fall. So, depending on what's happening, I would love to be a part of it. . . . It was fun, and it was so nice to go and work on a new piece, to be able to have some input and create something like that. So, if I'm available, I would definitely want to do it.