LONDON — Less than four days after Richard Dreyfuss appeared on British TV telling viewers not to see his West End blockbuster “The Producers” until after Christmas, the Oscar-winning star has ankled the Mel Brooks musical in which he was to make his singing and dancing debut.
Stepping into the breach is Broadway’s original Max Bialystock, Nathan Lane, who was due to arrive in the U.K. Monday night, have three days of rehearsals with the London company and be ready for the first preview Friday at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane. Opening night remains Nov. 9.
Susan Stroman, director-choreographer of the £5 million ($9 million) musical, said the mutually agreed upon decision for Dreyfuss to leave the show was reached Friday, a week before the first preview.
“It’s always very sad,” Stroman said, “but ultimately, we have to deliver a show to that audience on Friday night.” And Dreyfuss, she said, “had been complaining about aches and pains; his body wasn’t up to the task.”
Dreyfuss himself sounded cautious on British TV the night before announcing his decision to exit the physically and vocally demanding tuner. “Come to ‘The Producers’ from Christmas on,” he told viewers of ITV1’s “Frank Skinner Show.” “Do not come before that, OK? I want you to know the general manager just had a heart attack when I said that.”
Stroman said she hadn’t ruled out Dreyfuss perhaps doing the role “in six or seven months from now, maybe somewhere else. But he was never going to be ready by Friday night.”
The gig will mark the U.K. stage debut of Lane, whom Stroman also directed this summer on Broadway in “The Frogs.”
Leo Bloom is played by Lane’s “Mouse Hunt” co-star Lee Evans.
Lane will stay with the London production through Jan. 8, which means a replacement must be found almost immediately. And he’s likely to be at least close to matching his record Broadway fee earlier this year of $100,000 per week.
From London, Lane will next reprise the Bialystock role onscreen in the film version, which Stroman starts shooting Feb. 21 in Brooklyn.
(Robert Hofler in New York contributed to this report.)