Nathan Lane Wrestles Open Nighters to the Ground in ‘It’s Only a Play’

The Oct. 9 opening of starry comedy “It’s Only a Play” brought a little old-fashioned glamor back to Broadway: The event was black tie, just like in the golden age, and all the theater names that got dropped onstage in the legit-industry comedy were sitting in the crowd cheering on their friends. There were plenty more famous faces in the house too, including Louis CK, Zachary Quinto, Kristin Chenoweth, Angela Lansbury and Anna Wintour, as well as Sarah Jessica Parker and Nick Offerman, whose spouses Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally star in the show.

For all that, it was a tough crowd. “You played very hard to get,” said star Nathan Lane at the show’s afterparty at the Marriott Marquis. “It wasn’t easy. We had to wrestle you to the ground.”

The production’s instantly stellar sales have made it one of this season’s early hits, despite its seemingly insider-y subject matter.

Director Jack O’Brien insisted it wasn’t a play for Broadway insiders at all. It’s about a group of people who deal with a devastating setback — i.e., a terrible review in the New York Times — and summon the courage to go on. And they do it while tossing off the bon mots that characterize the way theater people speak.

“It’s not just bitchy,” O’Brien said. “It’s who we are. And there’s a lot of love in it.”

Of course, the critical mass of stars on the marquee — including Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham, joining Lane, Broderick and Mullally — doesn’t hurt at the box office either.

The cast was heavyweight enough that even Rupert Grint, who’s got a multibillion-dollar movie franchise under his belt, was a bit shy at first. “The first few weeks of rehearsal, I was absolutely terrified,” he said. “Really intimidated.”

The former “Harry Potter” star lands on the New York stage soon after a recent West End run in the play “Mojo.” Broadway, he opined, really knows how to make a to-do of itself. “Here it feels like a much bigger event,” he said.

 

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