NEW YORK — Brit actor Henry Goodman’s axing from “The Producers” last week made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, as industry members analyzed the why’s and wherefore’s of the seemingly abrupt decision.
Goodman had given just 30 performances in the role, and was due to face the critics on May 1. The producers, unhappy with the progress of his performance, decided not to take a chance that sour notices for Goodman might damage the reputation of the money-spinning hit.
The bad-news phone call went out during the April 14 matinee.
Goodman was onstage at the time. 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.
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, the much-discussed replacement for Tony winner Nathan Lane in the role of Max Bialystock, had been fired from the Mel Brooks musical. The Sunday matinee would be his last performance.
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. Later producer Rocco Landesman confirmed that assessment to the New York Times.
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. He was unavailable for comment in the days after the firing.
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.”
Brad Oscar, who was Tony-nommed for the role of Franz Liebkind, and who played Max more than 70 times when Lane began experiencing fatigue and vocal problems, took over the role with the April 16 performance. Oscar had been well-received in the role, and he takes over on a permanent basis.
Prior to “Producers,” Goodman’s only prior Broadway experience was as a replacement in “Art.” But Goodman was said to have delivered an excellent audition as Bialystock.
And a glance at Goodman’s London resume shows the logic of the choise. No other British actor has made such a specialty either of American Jews and/or Noo Yawk-ers (Roy Cohn in “Angels in America,” Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls,” a role also famously taken by Lane). Factor those credits in with his London stands in “Chicago,” “City of Angels” and “Assassins” (for which Goodman won the first of his two Oliviers), and Bialystock seems not too illogical a stretch for a classical actor who also happens to be steeped in musicals.
With London theater folk quick to register shock and sympathy, from Donmar exec producer Caro Newling (“He’ll be devastated”) to colleague and imminent “My Fair Lady” replacement Alex Jennings (“It’s a horrible horrible thing to happen”), talk has already surfaced of Goodman leading a London revival of Ronald Harwood’s “The Dresser,” inheriting Tom Courtenay’s role as Sir.
(Matt Wolf in London contributed to this report.)