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No More Waiting in the Wings

July 14, 2002|Josh Getlin

NEW YORK — Working in a hit show and basking in critics' praise seemed like a dream. But when Mel Brooks kissed him on the cheek, Brad Oscar knew he had arrived.

The big moment came during a recording session for "The Producers" cast album, when Brooks marveled over his young star's rise from obscurity to a featured role in New York's hottest musical: "This usually doesn't happen on Broadway," he said, hugging the beaming actor. "But it happened with this show, and when it did, we knew we had found gold."

Many have described Oscar's bright new celebrity as the ultimate Cinderella story, and in one sense it is. But he didn't appear out of nowhere to grab the leading role in "The Producers." Like so many Broadway veterans, he struggled for years to make a living on the boards, waiting for a break.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," he says, realizing that but for a series of extraordinary opportunities, he might still be playing a small part in "Jekyll and Hyde" or waiting tables in the midtown theater district.

It helped that Oscar had friends and loved ones behind him. From the moment he first showed acting talent, growing up in Rockville, Md., his parents, Fran and Paul, and his sister, Victoria Oscar, also an actress, strongly encouraged him.

Brad's mom and dad--who were theater nuts in their own right--took the family on regular weekend trips to New York to see the latest musicals. "The turning point came when we saw Brad play Motel the Tailor in 'Fiddler on the Roof,' when he was 14," recalls his father. "He sang and I turned to Fran and said: 'When did this happen? He's really, really good!"

Oscar's career started slowly, with small ensemble roles and a blur of auditions. He became an understudy in "Aspects of Love" and was cast in "Forbidden Broadway," a spoof of musical shows that included a six-month Los Angeles run in 1994. Lightning struck two years ago, when he joined "The Producers" as an understudy to Nathan Lane.

"The story gets bizarre and bittersweet," Oscar said, noting that he inherited the role of Franz Liebkind--for which he later received a Tony nomination--when actor Ron Orbach injured his knee. "You live for these moments, but I never expected they would come because somebody got hurt."

It wasn't enough to play the parts well. Oscar had to be deferential to the star, who was anguished over his vocal problems. He was modest, when some cast members grew jealous of his media publicity.

"This is a rough business with two-faced, backstabbing people," said Victoria Oscar. "So you pick your battles and never burn bridges. Brad survived because he's tactful. He's a team player and a very generous person."

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