The two three-dimensional persons on whom the show rests, of course, are Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, both of whom come off better here than in any of their recent work. Broderick, less well-trained vocally, sounds strained in song, but his two comic personae—shy urban schnook and smug slyboots—combine in wonderful balance. Lane, working with stronger lungs and fiercer energy, has wisely picked up hints from Zero Mostel's film performance without trying to duplicate it: He varies his Mostel moments with a pathos and fervor all his own, and a fastidious grandeur that suggests, of all people, Jackie Gleason. His climactic solo, a sort of retrograde "Rose's Turn" in which he does a tab version of the entire show in under five minutes, should be preserved on tape immediately; it's one of the musical theater's historic moments. The rest of The Producers' box office stampede can be attributed either to New Yorkers' relief at having a musical to laugh at again, or to Americans' willingness to believe that Hitler was a swishy song-and-dance man whose middle name was Elizabeth.

Elizabeth's own theatrical shtickmeister, Shakespeare, also tried ridiculing a showbiz war myth once, in his famous flop Troilus and Cressida. Readers have learned over the centuries since to relish his joke—considerably nastier than Brooks's—but theatergoers still find it a dry crust to swallow. Peter Hall, directing Theatre for a New Audience's production, doesn't make it easier with a deadpan, text-centered approach that sorts out the bits to see what they'll add up to, rather than building an overall interpretation. This may be preferable to setting the show in a supermarket or making it Nestor's wet dream, just as Sir Peter is preferable to idiots like Graham Vick or Peter Sellars, but it doesn't illuminate a work that's thorny and elliptical to start with. Martin Pakledinaz's costumes, mixing bits of armor with casual slacks and turtlenecks, make the show's strongest specific statement, and some of the performances emerge with sharp lucidity: Andrew Weems's gravelly Thersites, David Conrad's tautly dignified Hector, and most of all Tricia Paoluccio's Cressida. Though paired with an actively embarrassing partner, Paoluccio is vulnerable, forthright, and touching, her clear-spoken lines seeming to come straight from the character's perplexed, defensive heart.

Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in The Producers: Kitschland über alles
photo: Paul Kolnik
Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in The Producers: Kitschland über alles


The Producers
By Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
St. James Theatre
Broadway and 44th Street

Troilus and Cressida
By William Shakespeare
American Place Theatre
111 West 46th Street

The Gathering
By Arje Shaw
Cort Theatre
Broadway and 48th Street

World War II makes a tiresome excuse for an onstage family war in The Gathering, another in the long line of Jewish American plays about an oy and his father. In this one, dad's a Holocaust survivor, son's a Reagan speechwriter, and, yes, it's off to Bitburg, where a humane, dignified, Bundeswehr soldier almost succeeds in explaining history and morality to the bickering Jews, proving that Germany at least won the education wars. Under Rebecca Taylor's direction, the actors—especially Deirdre Lovejoy, Sam Guncler, and Coleman Zeigen—aren't nearly bad enough for this shrill, muddleheaded script. Playing past it in juicily hammy, relentlessly grandstanding style, Hal Linden, in the lead, seems to be auditioning to replace Nathan Lane as Bialystock, and I don't blame him in the least. If every Jewish play were like this, I'd become a Lutheran.

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