Brad Oscar, who over the last year frequently sublet the role of Max Bialystock from Nathan Lane, signs a long-term lease at the St. James Theatre starting April 16.
Oscar was recently drafted to assume the lead role in the smash musical after the sudden dismissal of Lane's replacement, Henry Goodman, on April 14.
Jim Borstelmann will play Oscar's old assignment, Nazi-loving playwright Franz Liebkind.
Oscar was the theatre press' favorite Cinderella story of last season. Within a few weeks in the early days of 2001, he went from playing Santa in Missouri to winning a supporting role in the Mel Brooks' smash musical The Producers. That lucky break led to a Tony nomination and a steady job filling in for an often ailing Nathan Lane in Broadway's most high profile acting assignment: scheming producer Max Bialystock.
During Lane's tenure, Oscar played Max more than 70 times, greatly aiding the show's backers and creative team, who had to contend with Lane's persistent vocal problems. The actor's regular role in the show was that of Hitler-worshipping scribe Liebkind. As such, he had two big numbers, the Teutonic-flavored "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop" and "Haben Sie Gehort Das Deutsche Band?" Oscar won the part of Franz during the musical's tryout in Chicago last winter. At the time, Oscar was already on board as Lane's standby. He won the job while still donning a fat suit and red cap down in Branson, MO, in a touring production of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show. Oscar flew north to Chicago on his day off to audition as Lane's standby and won the part.
That stroke of luck might have been enough for the happy-go-lucky Oscar. But during rehearsals, Ron Orbach, who was playing Franz, injured his knee. Oscar filled in during rehearsals and on opening night. Later on, when it became clear that Orbach would not be well enough to return, Oscar was made the permanent replacement.
Fast forward a couple months and a thousand miles and the man who spent much of his recent time on stage getting killed in Jekyll and Hyde collected a Tony nomination for featured actor in a musical.
"I'm having the time of my life — fantasy and reality," said Oscar at the time of the nomination. "I still wake up in the morning and ask, `Is this my life, to be a part of this project?'"
Oscar never lost his original gig; he was always understudy to Lane. But when it came to replacing the Tony-winning actor, producers made the unexpected move of casting Henry Goodman, a major presence on the British stage but little know in the U.S.
Goodman lasted a month before the Producers' producers removed him on April 14.
Stroman said in a statement, "I have the utmost respect for Henry Goodman. He is a wonderful actor and I would happily work with him again on another project. Henry has been very well received by audiences nightly, but the producers have decided to pursue a different quality for the role."
"I think they've made a mistake," Goodman told the New York Times April 16, the only publication in which he has gone of the record about the dismissal. "I think they should have let the critics see me... But I think you're dealing with the pressure of Broadway, dealing with an industry where just giving a good performance isn't enough. I respect that they're dealing with an industry of millions of dollars on the line, and when you are, you start dealing with people as commodities, not as people... This is as much about the boardrooms as it is about the boards."
According to accounts in the Times and Variety, Goodman was informed of the decision not by the show's producers, or Stroman or Brooks, but via a backstage phone call from his London agent, Penny Wesson, after the April 14 matinee.
The decision has left the Broadway community divided, with many feeling the producers were justified in their decision and just as many angry over the way the dismissal was handled.
Goodman's reputation as a funny man is solid in Britain, but according to sources close to The Producers, he was not striking comic gold in his portrayal of the conniving Bialystock. The Post quoted a company member as saying Mel Brooks and director-choreography Susan Stroman were "unhappy with the lack of progress Henry was making in the role."
"We are so proud of [Brad] and pleased for him," Paul Oscar, the actor's father, told PBOL April 15. "It may sound trite, but in this case it is true: It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy... He has worked very hard and has been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, and be able to support those opportunities with talent.
"My wife, Fran, would always say `When is someone going to notice him, he is so talented.' I would answer, `It will happen, just be patient.' "
The Oscars' daughter, Victoria Oscar, is also an actor. She played the role of Miss Hannigan in the last tour of Annie.