‘Producers’ plot thickens after axe

Though panned by critics, Goodman exit unexpected

This article was corrected on Apr. 16, 2002.

The bad-news phone call went out during Sunday’s matinee.

Henry Goodman was onstage playing Max Bialystock in the Broadway hit “The Producers.” Neither he nor Steven Weber, the show’s other new co-star, knew it would be Goodman’s last appearance in the show, although there had been rumors of trouble over at the St. James Theater for at least two weeks.

Never a good sign, press previews of the new “Producers” acting team, the much-heralded replacements for Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, had been pushed back from mid-April to early May.

It fell to Laura Green, the show’s general manager, to place the trans-Atlantic phone call to Goodman’s agent, Penny Wesson of Marmont Management in London. Green told Wesson that the respected British actor had been fired from the Mel Brooks musical. The Sunday matinee would be his last performance.

Exit stage left

Guards did not escort Goodman from the St. James after that final perf, but his dressing room was cleared of all personal belongings before evening’s end. By Monday, posters of Goodman and Weber, who continues in the show, were being removed from Times Square.

“He wasn’t delivering the laughs,” one source close to the production said of Goodman’s performance.

Goodman had complained that he was being asked to replicate Lane’s turn and wasn’t being allowed to put his personal stamp on the role.

In a written statement, director Susan Stroman said: “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.”

Goodman and Wesson could not be reached for comment. A receptionist at Marmont Management said the agent was not in the office but would return today.

Prior to “Producers,” Goodman most recently performed on Broadway in Yasmina Reza’s play “Art.”

Casting about

A star with movie or TV pedigree had been expected to replace Lane. When one did not materialize, the legit industry expected that Brad Oscar, who had subbed for Lane in more than 70 performances of “Producers,” would take over the role on a permanent basis.

However, sources close to Stroman said the director is often opposed to switching performers within a show. As for Goodman, he was said to have delivered an excellent audition as Bialystock. Also, his casting made a certain business sense in that the British actor, a star in London, would possibly make an easy segue into the upcoming West End production.

When the producers abandoned their original mid-April press dates for “Producers,” a few reporter-critics were known to have purchased their own tickets to attend performances last week. At least one article-in-the-works was said to be especially negative.

In addition to show creator Mel Brooks, the producers of “The Producers” include Rocco Landesman and Clear Channel.

Rolling along

At the show’s B.O. peak, “Producers” grossed $1.29 million during Lane and Broderick’s final session. Last week, the receipts were down to $1.17 million but still well above its gross potential of $1.04 million. The overages are the result of premium $480 tickets, which are sold through Broadway Inner Circle.

Meanwhile, Oscar continues to climb the Broadway ladder in a most unusual way.

During the show’s Chicago tryouts, he replaced an injured Ron Orbach in the role of the Nazi scribe, Franz Liebkind, nabbing a Tony nom shortly after “The Producers” opened on Broadway on April 19, 2001. When Lane developed a polyp on his vocal chords and reduced his working sked by at least two perfs a week, Oscar subbed for him in all matinee performances. He now takes over that lead eight perfs a week.

Is there a backstage musical in this story?

The review dates for the new leads in “The Producers” on Broadway were set as May 1 and 2 in mid-Febraury and never changed. Information was incorrect in Tuesday’s paper.

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