The comeback kids

Warm welcome for 'Producers' duo

NEW YORK — They came back, they performed, they conquered.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick returned to “The Producers” Tuesday for a three-month reprise.

Tuesday night’s audience gave Lane an ecstatic 60-second ovation when he first walked onstage. “Hairspray” lyricist Scott Wittman immediately rose to his feet, inspiring a few followers. Only a churl would point out that the audience’s greeting of Broderick in the next scene was maybe a second or two less intense. There was also a nice round of applause for Roger Bart, who returned in the role he created, Carmen Ghia.

Lane and Broderick have tweaked a few jokes here and there. Most notable addition is Max Bialystock’s new capper to his advice “Never put your own money in the show!”; in a pointed jab at Rosie O’Donnell’s bankrolling of her new musical, Lane added the zinger, “That’s taboo!”

Producers offered tickets for $1,500 that would have included the performance and dinner in the lobby of the Minskoff Theater. That event was canceled due to a lack of sales.

If Lane and Broderick’s grand return didn’t exactly replicate the audience hysteria of their first opening night, it certainly generated more excitement than most preems this legit season.

Outside the St. James Theater, the police put up barricades — and they were needed to keep back the considerable crowd of fans on the other side of West 44th Street. The curtain call was recorded by three dozen photographers and video crews, who quickly turned their attention to Broderick’s wife, Sarah Jessica Parker. She was standing with Barbara Walters, Brian Boitano, Frank Rich and the show’s lead producer, Rocco Landesman.

Standing ovations may be de rigueur today, but even a historic night like this rated only one curtain call. (The days of Margo Channing getting 10 or 12 are long gone.) Lane mouthed “I love you” to the audience, the curtain came down and it was over.

Edgy, raunchy show

Back in August, when news broke of the Lane/Broderick winter run in “The Producers,” industry wisdom had it that the show’s receipts would immediately suffer. On the contrary, the hoopla surrounding the two stars has reinvigorated interest in the show, especially in December. Last week, it was one of only five musicals to top the $1 million mark. And unlike the others — “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Wicked” and “Hairspray” — the Mel Brooks tuner is hardly good, clean family entertainment with its story of a mad transvestite impersonating Adolf Hitler. Such edgy, raunchy satire puts the show closer to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which in each of its two Broadway incarnations ran under 1,000 performances. Tuesday night was the 1,108th perf for “The Producers.”

Near the end of their initial run, Lane and Broderick produced weekly grosses just under $1.3 million. If they replicate those numbers in 2004, “The Producers” should displace “The Lion King” as the top-grossing show on Broadway. But it will be a close contest. Last week, the Disney tuner brought in $1,278,514.

Lane and Broderick reportedly pull down weekly salaries of $100,000 each for this return engagement. They leave the show April 4 after putting in 122 perfs. Box office is sure to decline with their replacements, but as “Producer” producer Tom Viertel told Daily Variety, “We have a long time to build that advance.” Tickets are difficult to come by until then.

Expensive, not impossible

Right now, “The Producers” is an expensive ticket. Broadway Inner Circle sells premium tickets at $240 and $480. Scalpers outside the theater were hawking them for $250, and Internet sites offer them from $200 to $950. However, “The Producers” is hardly an impossible ticket to buy, even at regular prices.

One standee Tuesday night cursed himself for getting to the box office at 8 a.m., two hours before it opened. “I thought there would be a huge line,” he said. “There were only three people in front of me.” Another standee reported buying her ticket at noon.

As for the full-price $99 ticket, an attorney seated off the aisle in row G said he arrived at the box office around noon on Tuesday, waited two hours for cancellations to that evening’s perf and finally bought seven tickets for his family.

“Four tickets are partial view, and we’re not all seated together,” said the man, “but my family wanted to see Nathan and Matthew.”

He revealed his own personal dislike of the original 1968 movie starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but after seeing the musical version, he couldn’t have been happier.

“Just awesome!” said Mel Brooks’ newest fan.

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