On Jan. 5, the day after he brings down the matinee curtain on It's Only a Play, Nathan ("Fast Track") Lane is off like a shot to Chicago to start rehearsing an epic change of pace — Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, which will cometh to the Brooklyn Academy of Music Feb. 5-March 15 and, conceivably, Broadway after that.
This means Lane will be leaving a record-shattering SRO mega-hit flapping in the wind and a cargo of hilarious co-stars high — but not, as it turns out, entirely dry.
On Jan. 7, Martin Short takes charge of the show, and we're off to a sell-out postscript at least until March 29 and possibly longer. Producers Tom Kirdahy, Roy Furman and Ken Davenport have such confidence in Short's proven box-office prowess that they're switching theatres to accommodate him, moving next door to the Jacobs Theatre and leaving the Schoenfeld Theatre free for Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth to invade Feb. 14 in The Audience. (That's a rare and costly move.)
Short admitted a momentary pause about following Lane's italic act. "There was a little dash of 'The nerve of me!' — but then that passed, and I thought, 'Oh, what the hell!'" he shrugged. He plays a TV-series actor at the Broadway opening-night party for a play penned by his best pal (Matthew Broderick) — a play he had nixed simply because it was awful. He's there to support, assess the early fallout and do triage. "Nathan and I share an energy and drive, but we're different people, and hopefully it'll be my own thing," Short said. "The secret of this, I think, starts with Terrence McNally. He's written a great play that'll be done for decades by many other actors. Every actor makes it a little different, brings his own journey and sensibility to it.
"But, believe me, there are going to be moments I'll just blatantly copy. Sometimes when you deliver a line, it's like cutting a diamond: there's only one way to do it." He has replaced in a Nathan Lane show before—only he didn't replace Lane. He did the Broderick role opposite Jason Alexander when The Producers opened in L.A.
Most of Play's cast will press on with Short: Broderick as the besieged playwright of the night; Stockard Channing as a dipso diva whose ankle alarm goes off in the second act and she has to improvise a tango on stage; F. Murray Abraham as a poison-pen critic and latent playwright, and Micah Stock as a coat-check hayseed.
Joining the show with Short are two-time Tony winner Katie Finneran as Julia Budder, the first-time producer whose posh bedroom is the site of the party-within-the-party play, and "30 Rock" alum Maulik Pancholy as the wunderkind Brit director of the piece, Frank Finger.
A few days after director Jack O'Brien started putting the actors in the show, Short caught it. "I thought it was hysterical. I read it — obviously, because I'm memorizing it — but, having read it, I didn't expect to be as moved in Act II," he confessed. "If you've been through Broadway openings, you know this. But there was a moment where Matthew made me tear up. So did Stockard, when she said, 'They used to say I was pretty at least.' They're such good actors — actors first and then comedians."
Compared to the delightfully disastrous evening depicted in the play, Short's three landings on Broadway have all been on feather beds. He lost his first Tony (The Goodbye Girl) to Brent Carver (Kiss of the Spider Woman) — a friend, fellow Canadian and, at one point, neighbor — who lost his second Tony (Parade) to Short (Little Me).
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me was a faux autobiography, done up as a Broadway musical by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. His actual (written) autobiography was just published by Harper Collins, titled after his Ed Grimley catchphrase, "I Must Say," and subtitled mockingly, "My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend." It is a rarity on the market — 100% free of smut, nasty stories, innuendos and improprieties. "I really don't like books where you rip people to shreds," he told The New York Daily News' Nicki Gostin recently. "First of all, because it's just not fair. I might have left out a few stories that may have made people look bad, but I have not had an experience of working with horrible people, and I think part of it is what I give off. I don't like tension when I work at all. To me, it's all just fun."
Five minutes, Mr. Nice Guy.