PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: November A Fast, Right Lane to the White House

By Harry Haun
18 Jan 2008

Baker was relieved to learn The Broadway Dress Code had relaxed a lot since his last Broadway gig, playing the heavily powdered, popinjay prince of 1991's La Bete.

His role in Mauritius earlier this season and now as Lane's chief political advisor in November mercifully required conventional business-suit attire. Not so with La Bete: "The first day of rehearsal," he recalled, "the director, Richard Jones, whom I had met only once when I auditioned for him, pulled me aside and said, 'You're going to have a black wig that will go up eight inches and then flop down in black curls, and you're going to have shoes with six-inch heels and big pink bows, and you're going to have a 40-foot cape carried by attendants, and you're going to have a staff that's six feet tall — and a live cockatoo.' I had no idea if he was telling the truth or if he was just setting me up. He was telling exactly the truth. Almost for the second day, I had a big old robe tied to my back.

"It took me 45 minutes to get ready each night. I couldn't have done it alone. I had the greatest dressers in the world, who'd wrap me around. To tie a cape that heavy, you've got to wrap around. They'd be hugging me and pulling me — then they'd hand me the bird.

"There were actually two different birds, and I got along with them great. But, every now and then — especially Bird B — he'd get a suicide urge and would climb up my arm and tuck his head into my wig. It wasn't normal straight hair. It had netting in it, and he'd get his head stuck in there. In the middle of the show, I'd have to get his head out of the wig, and he'd go, 'What the hell was that?' The birds were great. There was only one performance when the bird squealed when I was talking to Tom McGowen, and it forced us both to stop and look at the bird. He squawked one more time, then we went back to the scene."

As the towering Indian on the warpath in the Oval Office, Nichols struck quite a commanding, even intimidating figure. "Six-foot-four," he replied to the first question.

His was the last role to be cast, and it's the first role that he has ever done on Broadway after 27 years in the business. "Mostly I worked regionally and Off-Broadway," he explained, "but I've been out of the business for about three years — in Florida, tending to family business, taking care of my father and mother who passed. I moved back to New York in August because I'm an actor at heart and got this job shortly thereafter."

Phillips is a familiar face making an unexpected reentry into New York theatre in the role of the turkey titan. "I got a television series that ran forever — "Star Trek: Voyager" — and I was covered in rubber for, like, seven years," he explained. "Then I fell in love with L.A., stayed there and did a lot theatre out there at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Geffen and the Mark Taper. I kinda flew in on my own nickel to audition for this, and I bagged it."

The sleet/rain/snow of the evening made pre-show sound-bites impossible. Everybody scurried into the theatre with minimum verbiage and stayed there — in a happy huddle — during the intermission, save for the most die-hard smokers who are used to braving the elements.

The quickly-passing parade included Josh Lucas (quite comfortable with the "Poseidon" setting), Jason Butler Harner, film director Sidney Lumet (enjoying an octogenarian's renaissance with the prized and praised "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"), Kristen Johnston, Met mezzo Susan Graham, celebrity lawyer Benjamin Brafman, Cabaret's Tony- and Oscar-winning Joel Grey, "Mad Men" star John Slattery and wife Talia Balsam (he has a Lisbon Traviata connection with Lane), Joy Behar, Anthony Edwards, Michael Mastro, Ann Hohn, Stephen Bogardus (Baltimore-bound to do A Little Night Music with his Falsettos co-star, Barbara Walsh and Polly Bergen), John Benjamin Hickey (expecting to be back on Broadway in the fall in a reunion of last summer's Williamstown revival of Lillian Hellman's The Autumn Garden) and a Juno-is-bustin'-out-all-over Victoria Clark.

Lead producer Jeffrey Richards — a producer-plus-publicist, likes to star-light his opening nights with personnel from his previous shows — hence, Talk Radio's Eric Bogosian (with wife-director Jo Bonney), Stephanie March (with hubby-chef Bobby Flay) and Peter Hermann (with wife Mariska Hargitay), Glengarry Glen Ross' Tom Wopat (returning to Broadway in A Catered Affair this spring), The Best Man's Christine Ebersole, August: Osage County's Tracy Letts, Enchanted April's Molly Ringwald, Spring Awakening's producing partner Tom Hulce; The Pajama Game's Kelli O'Hara (with new groom Greg Naughton) and The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged's Peter Ackerman.

Pretty much everyone was singing Lane's praises. Jerry Seinfeld arrived with a late chorus.

Matthew Broderick, Lane's other half in The Odd Couple as well as The Producers, was awed at the way Lane owned Mamet's words. "That's his genius. I'm sure they're all written down and word perfect. Nathan always stays right on it until he learns something exactly right."

Amen to that, said Neil Simon, who's pretty particular about words. "I've worked with Nathan four times. He's the best."