Curse of 'The Producers' strikes again as injury forces star to pull out

The chances of life imitating the high-kicking, goose-stepping comedy of
The Producers seemed remote. But the curse of the West End casting director delivered a line straight from the script yesterday when it was announced that Nathan Lane was to pull out of his remaining performances after suffering two slipped discs.

The chances of life imitating the high-kicking, goose-stepping comedy of The Producers seemed remote. But the curse of the West End casting director delivered a line straight from the script yesterday when it was announced that Nathan Lane was to pull out of his remaining performances after suffering two slipped discs.

Just as the show's character Franz Liebkind breaks a leg after winning the part of Adolf Hitler - about whom shysters Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom make a hilarious attempt to stage a surefire Broadway flop - Lane shuffled out of the Theatre Royal production two weeks early.

Lane, who was also a celebrated star of the Tony-winning production on Broadway, is one of the actors whom the writer Mel Brooks gazed on after the opening night at London's Drury Lane last month, and declared: "This is a cast worth paying." The London stage version of Brooks's hit has been plagued by problems with its stars since transferring from the US, where it has run since 2001 and won 12 Tonys.

The original choice for Lane's role as Bialystock was the Oscar-winning American Richard Dreyfuss, who had never sung or danced on stage.

Reports soon began circulating of Dreyfuss's technical inadequacy in the taxing part and his marked inferiority to his co-star Lee Evans. Then he caused concerns for the show's director, Susan Stroman, by declaring on the Frank Skinner television talk show that although the show officially opened on 9 November, audiences should stay away for a few weeks.

"It's the knees, ankles, hips, elbows, ribs that I'm worrying about. It will be fine. It will be a platonic ideal of dance," he confessed. Dreyfuss was dropped in place of Lane three weeks before the opening night. The producers cited "complications" from back surgery and a recurring shoulder injury.

The next drop-out was Nicole Kidman, who earlier this month announced that she would not be making an appearance in the new film version of the show - which began life on the silver screen in 1968. Shooting is due to begin in New York in February, also directed by Stroman, but Kidman was forced to abandon the role of the loopy Scandinavian secretary Ulla, apparently because her other commitments got in the way of rehearsals. Her role in Bewitched has left her without enough time to practise the intricate song and dance routines required.

British actors have also let down Brooks. In a mirror image of the Dreyfuss setback, Henry Goodman travelled to New York to take over the Bialystock role from Lane two years ago - but was sacked before opening night.

In the West End, critics adored Lane's exuberant and physically demanding performance as Bialystock, the weaselly director who, with his accountant Leo Bloom (played by Evans), are forced to concoct the perfect money-making scheme: a premeditated theatrical flop by the name of "Springtime For Hitler".

A spokesman for the show said that Lane should recover in six weeks, enabling him to take up his role in the film version. The Bialystock role will be played by Cory English until 8 January when Brad Oscar - Lane's understudy on Broadway - will take over the role as scheduled.

Stroman can only hope that history does not repeat itself. Lane's departure from the New York cast caused a steep dip in bookings.

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