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Producers Pull Backing From New Star

Theater* Before his big opening in 'Producers,' Henry Goodman has been dropped as Nathan Lane's replacement.

April 16, 2002|PATRICK PACHECO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — Henry Goodman, the much ballyhooed replacement for Nathan Lane in Broadway's "The Producers," was himself replaced in the role of Max Bialystock after Sunday's matinee, two weeks before he was to open for the critics.

The British actor--along with Steven Weber, who took over for Matthew Broderick--began performances in the Mel Brooks smash on March 19. Rumblings surfaced early on that the producers and creative team were unhappy with Goodman's performance, but the rumors of a replacement were denied, and a press date of May 1 was set for the official opening of the new stars.

But Sunday, the producers of "The Producers" decided to cut their losses by letting Goodman go and giving the role to Brad Oscar, who received a Tony nomination for his performance as Franz Liebkind, the Nazi playwright in the musical.

"I have the utmost respect for Henry Goodman," Susan Stroman, the "Producers" director and choreographer, said in a statement released Monday morning by the show's publicists. "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."

As Lane's understudy, Oscar performed the role of Max several times in the past year and has received favorable notice from occasional reviews. He is currently co-starring with Weber, who remains with the show.

No one from "The Producers" would officially comment on the drastic action, but a person close to the production, speaking anonymously, said of Goodman: "He just wasn't funny. There was no chemistry between him and Steven." Asked if that problem had not been apparent in the audition process, the person responded, "Sometimes auditions can be very different from actually getting up in front of an audience. It really was a question of a bad fit because Henry really is very talented."

While virtually unknown in the U.S. (he was part of a replacement cast in the long-running Broadway play "Art"), the classically trained Goodman is something of a critics' darling in London for his award-winning performances in "The Merchant of Venice" and in Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins." It is not unusual for actors to be fired when a show is in development or even previews. But it is virtually unheard of for an actor who is a replacement in a long-running show, particularly one as well-established as "The Producers," which won a record 12 Tony Awards last year.

Indeed, many insiders see the casting change as a desperate attempt to protect the show's franchise. Since the departure of Lane and Broderick, advance ticket sales have fallen off--and the $480 VIP tickets have gone begging--though the show is still grossing more than $1 million a week. The official critics' opening remains May 1.

The touring production of "The Producers" is scheduled to come to Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre in April 2003. No casting has been announced.

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