NEW YORK, March 19 (UPI) -- British actor Henry Goodman, virtually unknown to American theater-goers, took over today from comedian Nathan Lane the hottest role on Broadway - Max Bialystock in "The Producers."
Lane's plans to drop out of the show were announced last month, ostensibly because he was having problems with a vocal polyp that forced him to miss a number of performances of the Mel Brooks musical that opened last April. He plans to star in a new CBS series titled "Life of the Party," playing an actor who is elected to Congress, after a brief vacation.
Matthew Broderick, who plays Max's straight man sidekick, Leo Bloom, also has left the show to move on to the making of a television version of "The Music Man," and several film projects including "Nicholas Nickleby." He was replaced today by television star ("Wings') Steven Weber.
Both Lane and Broderick were nominated for a 2001 Tony Award Tony but only Lane won. He brought Crawford with him onstage when he accepted the award last June.
Goodman, 51, is one of London's most employed actors, recently starring as a manic media manipulator for a British prime minister in a satirical play titled "Feelgood." His Eddie in this play was almost as famous as Lane's Max in "The Producers" on account of its broad comic approach to acting.
A native Londoner whose career began in East End dance hall musicals and progressed to West End theater district, Goodman has appeared only once previously on Broadway as a replacement actor in the long run of the play "Art" several seasons ago. But many of the roles he has played in London have been in American plays.
He was Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," Roy Cohn in "Angels in America," Billy Flynn in "Chicago," and Charles Guiteau in Stephen Sondheim's "The Assassins." The Guiteau role won him the prestigious Olivier Award for best performance in a musical.
"Various people in New York have been interested in me doing things there for several years now, going way back to 'Angels in America' at the National Theater," Goodman said in an interview. "I think there is soil that has been sown, and in the end, I suppose I've come up with just the right chemistry, the right combination of factors for this particular role."
He said he had no qualms about taking over the oily role of Max, a feckless producer who is out to bilk his investors with a show called "Springtime For Hitler."
"New York's a tough cookie," he observed, "but it's so supportive if it likes you."
Goodman not only will be stepping into Lane's shoes but also is inviting comparison to the late great Zero Mostel, who played Max in the movie from which the musical was adapted. He says he remembers seeing Mostel in the role and thinking, "God I'd like to play that role some day."
The actor checked Lane out once in the role after coming to New York last month, then began rehearsing the play from the beginning.
"It wouldn't be very interesting if I didn't approach the part with different instincts than Mostel's or Lane's," he said. "Otherwise, the audience wouldn't be getting something that's new and alive and dangerous and fresh. I love all that unquenchable zany energy in the show and all that politically incorrect humor."
Lane's long journey to the St. James Theater began at 10 when he was selected by talent scouts to play one of the Jewish children rescued from a concentration camp in the movie "Conspiracy of Hearts." He began studying acting and dance and married a girl from South Africa he met in one of his classes. He returned to Cape Town with her and spent the 1970s performing in Athol Fugard's theater company.
When he returned to England in 1981, the Royal Shakespeare Company beckoned and he became a part of the London theater establishment with a career climaxed in 1999 by an Olivier Award for best act for his Shylock in a National Theater production of "The Merchant of Venice."
He has appeared briefly in films, but a film career eluded him, possibly because he is more interested in the theater and has never had a break between roles since 1990. He did take time out to play the hotel concierge in "Notting Hill," a role notable for having Hugh Grant kiss him than for anything else. Strangely enough, he said, "This seems to stick in people's memories."
Goodman's takeover of the Lane role and Broderick's replacement by Weber doesn't seem to have had any effect on ticket sales, according to a spokesman for the show. "The Producers" is still the most difficult ticket to come by on Broadway, with most performances nearly sold out until late in the year.