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Drury Lane nears deal for ‘Producers’

Prod'n readying for London sans B'w'y stars

LONDON — Bialystock and Bloom are getting nearer — well, somewhat — to an opening in Blighty.

A prominent London producer of “The Producers” has confirmed to Daily Variety that the record Tony winner will open in fall 2004 at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane, and that its original Broadway stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, will not be part of the package overseas.

“At the moment, (Lane and Broderick) are not coming here,” said David Ian, CEO of Clear Channel Theatrical in Europe, which has a 20% stake in what will be the first production of the Mel Brooks/Thomas Meehan/Susan Stroman musical outside North America. “We are equally convinced we can get two good people” from the local talent pool “that are known and have marquee value and would be good in it.”

To that end, Ian said, “We’ve been working on casting the show with U.K. actors,” with two names — Robert Lindsay and Lee Evans — having apparently emerged as leading candidates, according to sources.

Lindsay, of course, is the classically trained actor who wowed the West End and Broadway during the 1980s in “Me and My Girl,” for which he won a Tony. (Thesp is at the National Theater in the Nick Dear play “Power.”) Evans is the comic star of such films as “Mouse Hunt,” in which he co-starred, coincidentally, with Lane.

Not a done deal

Ian said Lindsay and Evans weren’t “a done thing by any means; we are still looking at it.” But he said he expected a full announcement to be made by the end of the year so tickets could go on sale before Christmas.

In choosing to look to British performers rather than importing Broadway stars, “The Producers” team is following the path taken by, among other shows, the London version of “Chicago.” That production opened at the Adelphi Theater in 1997 with Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper — “a purely European cast,” Ian noted.

What matters, he said, is that the casting “is appropriate and good and talented.”

Rumors have swirled for ages about when “The Producers” would pitch up in Britain and who would lead the cast, with Henry Goodman (London’s first Billy Flynn in “Chicago”) leading many people’s lists — until, that is, the Olivier winner was fired from the New York production. For some time now, Broderick and Lane have been assumed to be too expensive a proposition for London, a city where ticket prices haven’t yet reached three-digit Broadway norms and where the sorts of Producers’ Circle mark-ups on “The Producers” — $480 a go for best seats — are entirely unknown.

New Year’s Eve return

The original New York stars are due to return to the Broadway company on New Year’s Eve, where industry talk has pegged their weekly salaries in six digits — again, something that probably isn’t possible on the West End.

But with “The Producers” taking its sweet time to cross the Pond, composer-impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber was among those to wonder aloud at whether the delay was a good thing. “My only worry about ‘The Producers’ is that it has been a bit long in the coming,” Lloyd Webber told Daily Variety. “It will all be down to the casting of that.” (Lloyd Webber’s next musical, “The Woman in White,” could well be opening on the West End around the same time.)

And yet he, like Ian, went on to add that a Blighty buzz for this particular Broadway import was inevitable: ” ‘The Producers’ is a very very popular film here; I can’t believe when it all happens that the whole hoopla won’t see it through.”